Today is the Festival of Shavout, the Spring Harvest Festival that celebrates the handing down of the Torah on Mt. Sinai, the scroll of Jewish Law. The way we celebrate this holiday in our synagogue is similar to the way it is being celebrated in Israel and throughout the world, it’s a parallel experience. This global celebration is being held in synagogues everywhere, whether it is the Great Synagogue in Jerusalem or in the Altashul in Amsterdam or Lincoln Square in Manhattan. The concept of Shavout is an ancient tradition that carries over to our heritage today. The concept of celebrating one’s heritage and anniversary dates of special occasions is ancient and trans-cultural. When we honor our heritage we demonstrate the value of traditions. This builds a strong foundation for the future. By your participation in this year’s festivities you demonstrate your pride at being part of the Jewish people’s rich historical landscape and heritage.
Weren’t the children beautiful? We hope this celebration with the children will grow every year through the generosity of many sponsors who have enabled us to produce this high caliber event.
The flowers the children carry are a symbol of spring, rebirth and hope as well as a reminder of the refreshing aroma of the earth and creation. All of us here are awed by the significance of when G-d gave each and every Jew the gift of the Torah, which has been a lifeline to the nation through the Generations. The teachings and the wisdom of the Torah are considered a gift to the Nation of Israel and the world, vital for spiritual existence and survival.
Millions were present during the historical event whereby we are told that all the Jews and the souls of those individuals that would be born in the future were present as well. It was a multi-media show, so to speak, and probably in today’s terms, comparable to the opening night of Spiderman, Harry Potter, The Mummy Returns, Planet of the Apes, Star Wars Episode I, and the excitement that all these blockbusters provided for the masses. On opening night, Spider Man was hailed by the press as the year’s biggest money-maker and success by shattering just about every opening night box office record. In modern day, this movie has been the greatest production ever witnessed the largest viewer ship in history in a single night.
If you compare this event to the dramatic event of when the people heard the voice of G-d and there was thundering and lightning and supernatural and unprecedented occurrences, approximately 3,014 years ago, this was an even bigger and more comparable and impressive event in history because there were many more individuals that were witness to it. The script and the production of the event on Mt. Sinai has been continuously re-enacted for over 3,000 years every Shavout holiday. While movies may lose their potency and power over the course of a few months or years, the event of the giving of the Torah and G-d’s communication to man and to His people is still considered the #1 best seller. There is no other historical event that has ever topped it. It is of utmost eternal significance for us as a people and individually.
The Torah is our nation’s treasure. We store it carefully in our arcs, in synagogues. In this month’s issue of Antiques and Collecting magazine, First Lady Laura Bush revealed to reporters that she collects Mexican tourist pottery. She was on a visit to the New American Folk Art Museum in NYC. So many people in this country treasure antique objects, objects of certain value that are determined through the following criteria: completeness, endurance, increased value, detail of the handiwork and enduring beauty. In comparison with the most treasured, valuable antiques in the world, the Torah’s values are timeless and eternal. The beauty of words is one of the ages’ most valuable and practical antiques, so to speak. The Torah as we said was given to us over 3,014 years ago which gives it the aura of being an incredible antique artifact that has been preserved and respected through the ages.
Another illustration that helps us to see the timelessness of the Torah is a comparison to the Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrice Potter, a beloved children’s classic book that many have read. It has had a record 250 printings in 35 different languages and is currently celebrating its 100th birthday. While that is certainly something to be amazed at, think about this--the Torah has been through perhaps hundreds of thousands of reprints--every time it has been rewritten on a scroll though the centuries. It has been read and cherished all over the world for hundreds of generations. The Torah has been translated into countless languages all over the world.
Each year, Jews celebrate the anniversary of this historically significant event--the giving of the Torah. Some of the ways in which we re-enact and role-play is through a dramatic re-enactment--using props, scenery, costumes, liturgy and a script. These are the elements of a production. So if we break down the components, the props are the food that we eat, the dairy products, the candles that we light, the books that we hold in our hands and read. The costumes are the yomtov clothing that we dress in and the scenery is how we decorate our synagogues and homes with flowers and greenery and we try to put our environment in spic and span shape. The liturgy is the special songs we sing and prayers to the Almighty that works to create a certain ambiance and tells a story like a musical play. During the dramatic presentation there is a dialogue and exchange of ideas between us and our prayers to G-d. Some of it is like improvisational theater where people express their viewpoints off the cuff.
All of these pieces help us to spiritually step into the mindset and recreate the drama. Our tradition encourages us to pull an all-nighter of learning to commemorate and immerse our minds in this historically significant event. This helps to intensify our knowledge and review our history spanning more than 3,000 years.
In Israel there is a very powerful and moving tradition of Jews migrating en masse to the Wailing Wall as the sun rises for the Shacharit prayers. The ground is packed and the sound of the multitude of prayers in unison can touch the depth of one’s soul. Here too in our close-knit and loving community, we are creating our own special feeling of unity and purpose through our participation and observance of this sacred time.
CHILDREN’S SECTION - This was the portion of the service when the Ten Commandments were read from the Torah from the book of Sh’moth and the children gathered around the bimah carrying baskets of fruit and adorned with flowers. This is a custom for the festival of Shavuot. A blessing was given to the children:
History reflects not only where we’ve been but also where we as a nation, state and county are going. Our children are blessed to have the opportunity to fully appreciate the rich history and culture Judaism offers.
Children, you are beautiful and special. We are proud of you. We hope through your attendance in our synagogue with your friends and family, you will have positive, fun times and love being Jewish. Hopefully days like today will be cherished Jewish memories etched in your hearts for your entire lives. By dressing up with flowers and proudly marching, you are showing the world and G-d that Judaism is alive and well in America.
You children serve as a comforting reminder that the love of Judaism is strong. You are showing how proud you are to live in a country so full of choices and creativity that allows you to learn and live and develop your Jewish identity.
The procession we witness tonight is a colorful panorama of flowers and fruits that hopefully will be one of many positive biblical and family-oriented celebrations in our community that will bear many seeds for our future. Your participation in this event promotes strong family and community --a theme and deep-seated need in this country, especially since 9/11 and other events of the last year transpired.
May we remember the past and enjoy a great Jewish future. Where there’s a will there’s a way. Wishing everyone well and good Shabbas and great Yom Tov.
On Shavout we dine on milk and honey, symbolic of the Land of Israel and the sweetness and the goodness as well as cheese and blintzes, our traditional holiday food. These foods are in contrast with the General Tso’s chicken, which was a meal created for a Chinese General after a bloody battle. Indeed some believe it quite likely that this dish was whipped up for the general after some single victory just as Chicken Morengo was whipped up for Napoleon after he defeated the Austrians at Morengo on June 14th, 1800. The eating of foods has historical and mystical connections. Many other cultures have such culinary traditions as well.
The opening of new Star Wars movie just took place this week, a motion picture full of slick action and sleek special effects. It has magical appeal. The main character is Yoda, he’s 26 inches little but they say not to let his size fool you--he can kick asteroids. He calls upon internal energy sources called "midi-clarions". In the fantasy world of Star Wars, these microorganisms reside within the cells of living things and communicate with "The Force"--without these this life could not exist and we would not have knowledge of "the Force." Isn’t this spiritual? And isn’t this what G-d is--the ultimate force of creation? Just like the "midi-clarions" are a necessity for life in Star Wars’ universe, so is G-d a necessary force for man to survive and make it through with hope and purpose in his/her life on earth.