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May 20, 1988 - Image 142

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1988-05-20

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Lack Of Symbols

Continued from L-1

would expect us to be God-like and
judge us by a different standard.
(Mark Twain recognized and wrote
about this in a small work entitled
Concerning the Jews, which is
excerpted here.)
"The Egyptian, the Babylonian,
and the Persian rose, filled the
planet with sound and splendor,
then faded to dream-stuff and
passed away; the Greek and the
Roman followed, and made a vast
noise, and they are gone; other
peoples have sprung up and held
their torch high for a time, but it
burned out, and they sit in twilight
now, or have vanished. The Jew
saw them all, beat them all, and is
now what he always was, exhibiting
no decadence, no infirmities of age,
no weakening of his parts, no
slowing of his energies, no dulling
of his alert and aggressive mind. All
things are mortal but the Jew; all
other forces pass, but he remains.
What is the secret of his

Because of our choice, our
history has been a series of lessons
for the world. In our travels we have
shown the world the greatness of a
nation which lives with God. We
came from slavery to freedom, we
were provided for in the desert for
40 years. Later, during the time of
the Second Temple, we saw how
our might, which was fueled by a
desire for a life with God, was able
to defeat the greatest military and
social forces in the world. And we

Shavuot: A Celebration

Continued from L-1

Ha-Bikurim (Day of the First Fruits)
and Hag Ha-Katzir (Harvest
Festival), because the holiday
marked the offering of new produce
in the Temple, and also the end of
the barley harvest and the
beginning of the wheat harvest.
Now, what about the
There is no precise reason why
we eat dairy foods on Shavuot, but
among the explanations is the fact
that in the Book of Shemot (Exodus
23:19), the laws of first fruits and
the separation of meat and milk are
stated in the same verse. Also, the
rabbis point out that it was not until
after Sinai that Jews were permitted
to eat non-sacrifical meat.
On erev Shavuot — the first
eve of the holiday — many observe
the custom of staying up all night
and studying Torah, to
commemorate the vigil our
ancestors kept the night before the
theophany at Sinai.
There are also a number of
Shavuot synagogue traditions. We
read the Book of Ruth, which
describes her conversion to
Judaism, for likewise, when the
Israelites received the Torah, they
too, were "converted." Also, the
main story in the book centers on


FRIDAY, MAY 20, 1988

the harvest, and Ruth is an
ancestor of King David, whose
yahrzeit is traditionally observed on
Shavuot. In fact, many people recite
the entire Book of Psalms on
Shavuot (in light of the tradition that
David was its author).
The synagogue is adorned with
greenery, flowers and trees,
because tradition tells us that Mt.
Sinai was lush with vegetation.
The Torah portion on the first
day of Shavuot includes the Ten
Commandments. And, on the first
and second days, we chant two
Aramaic hymns in praise of the
Torah: Akdamut and Yatziv Pitgam.

In memory of the departed, we
recite Yizkor on the second day.
Many congregations use this
opportunity to hold an appeal for a
worthy cause.
In many Reform and
Conservative congregations,
Shavuot is the time for
So, try to stay awake the first
night, listen attentively to the story
of Ruth, respond generously to your
local appeal, and ladle the sour
cream on the blintzes as thick as
you like.
Enjoy Shavuot!

. . All things are mortal
but the Jew; all other
forces pass but he
remains. What is the
secret of his
Mark Twain

know, from recent events, how
humanity can plummet to
unspeakable depravity without God.
The events of the Torah were
formative and God formalized them
in symbols. The prophets and
scholars who lived later, gave
symbolic representation to concepts
and later events.
On Pesach, God freed us from
slavery. Since then, the days of
Pesach have become an opportunity
to focus on the freedom to be
gained by living with God. God gave
us a symbol of this freedom, it is
After the Exodus we traveled
the desert. Our needs were
provided for. God gave us a symbol
of His caring for our peace and
security to have for all times, the
sukkah. So we move out of our
homes, our man-made pseudo-
security, and into the sukkah and

put our well-being into God's hands.
On Chanukah, we kindle small
lights, which symbolize that a small
bit of wisdom's light can overcome
even the intense darkness of a
Godless life.
These examples and the other
symbols in Torah stand for some
expression of God's love for our
people and our love for God. Each
one represents something
meaningful in our past which, when
performed and understood, helps us
capture the impact of the original
event and reawaken within us the
feelings of goodness, love and
security, feelings of power and
meaning that come from such a
Shavuot is categorically
different. It does not express a
particular aspect of our relationship

Shavuot is the wedding
and Torah is our ketubah,
our marriage vows.

with God or evoke a specific feeling.
Rather, it is the day we entered into
the covenant. For this reason the
Talmud compares Shavuot to a
wedding. "I am to my beloved and
my beloved is to me" said King
Solomon, referring to God and the
Jewish people as we stood together
on Shavuot.
Shavuot is the wedding and
Torah is our ketubah, our marriage


In marriage, the love between
husband and wife is expressed in
many ways. "I am sensitive to your
feelings, and I symbolize my
sensitivity by giving you a book of
poems. So you'll know that I am
committed to your security, I give
you a ring, a symbol of strength. I
don't want a symbol of my beloved,
however, I want my beloved.
Conversely, my beloved will not
accept any symbols of me." There
can be no symbol for our belonging
to each other. Similarly, the Jewish
people can accept no symbol of
This is why Shavuot has no
symbols. Shavuot is our anniversary.
Why is the day referred to as
the holiday of the first fruits in the
Torah rather than as the holiday of
the giving of the Torah?




20300 Civic Center Drive
Suite 240
Southfield, Michigan 48076
May 20, 1988
Associate Publisher Arthur M. Horwitz
News Editor Heidi Press
Jewish Experiences for Families
Advisor Harlene W. Appleman
Illustrator Neil Beckman

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