It may not be on your radar, but the Jewish holiday of Shavout is upon us. Historically, it is a big one … one of the three pilgrimage festivals for which our ancestors congregated in Jerusalem at the Temple. Currently, as far as popular recognition or observance goes, it could be said that Shavuot does not reside on the Mt. Rushmore of Jewish Holidays.
Originally, an agriculturally based observance of first fruits, Shavuot also became the medium to celebrate a fairly significant event in the mythic life of the Jews – the Sinai moment. In our story that is told in Torah, the Sinai moment is where God speaks to the Israelite community directly (not through Moses as is commonly thought in the collective Jewish psyche — or as Mel Brooks or Cecil B. Demille portrays).
For most liberal Jews this significant moment in our collective story is hard to embrace. Accepting the literal or figurative truth in the story can be challenging. For me, I certainly lean in that direction … and yet, somewhere and somehow I do not want to completely reject the possibility of an encounter or experience that wow’s us, moves us and transforms us. When I consider the Sinai story and its implications, I understand it as our tradition’s code for expressing the possibility of encounters with the divine … and its challenge to think about our readiness and openness to such encounters.
So, Jews around the world will focus on the Sinai moment this week. (Tuesday night or Wednesday are the actual days on which Shavuot falls this year). In the spirit of encountering the divine, perhaps you have a few moments (actually on Shavuot or sometime this week) for consideration, cogitation or contemplation of Sinai-esque moments. If you are so inclined, please use this Shavout exercise as a guide.
- Carve out some time where you can sit, relax and reflect.
- If you can make it a space where you can experience of bit of the majesty that is part of our Colorado mountains, better yet!
- Bring along something to write with (if that is something you prefer) or something to sip on (if that is something you prefer).
- Make yourself comfortable … first physically, make sure you are good to sit for some time.
- Then mentally, take a few moments, focus on your breathing, empty your mind of what you have to do or what you did not do … just clear out your mind of the clutter of the everyday.
- Let’s put aside trying to get our heads and hearts around the actual experience of the divine encounter. Let’s consider the preparation or readiness for such an encounter.
- Read this description from Torah about the organization of the Israelites in the wilderness (as they prepared for their spiritual journey) and the explanation of it from the Etz Hayim Torah Commentary:
NUMBERS 2:1: The Israelites shall camp each with his standard, under the banners of their ancestral house; they shall camp around the Tent of Meeting at a distance.
- To sum up: Knowing one’s sense of self or place prepares one for encountering the divine.
- How ready are you for a divine encounter? How clear, defined or grounded is your own sense of self. Take some time to consider each of these aspects – as named by Torah – of your own place. As you do, write or draw (or some combination of these) as you process.
2) Your Ancestral Banners: What does the banner or your family look like? What is the nature of your relationship with the people in your family? Which relationships are most challenging? Which relationships are most rewarding? What are the gifts of your family that you most cherish? What ‘gifts’ are more burdensome?
3) The Tent of Meeting: What does your communal tent look like? What the communities of which you find yourself? How do you participation in each of them? How do you contribute to each of them? How do your communities sustain you?
- Imagine your standard, banner and tent before you. Name, visualize and imagine the potential Sinai moments on your current path.
- Take a few more moments to be in the moment, reflect on what you thought about, wrote or drew.