This week's portion: on jealousy and the ritual of the Sotah.
A weekend in Montreal

Tikkun leyl Shavuot

My little shul had a lovely little Shavuot observance this year. Since it's traditional to eat dairy at Shavuot, we began with an ice cream social. We were a small group, maybe fifteen in total, of all ages. We ate ice cream with caramel and hot fudge and whipped cream. One of my b'nai mitzvah students helped to watch the rabbi's littlest girl. The kids played with hula hoops.

Then we lit the festival candles, and Jeff, our rabbi, gave a little vort of Torah. Shavuot, he pointed out, is the only one of the shalosh regalim (the three once-upon-a-time pilgrimage festivals when the Israelites used to take sacrifices to the Temple in Jerusalem) with no major observance. At Passover, we hold a seder and eat matzah, taking the holiday into ourselves; at Sukkot, we build little booths and dine in them, placing ourselves inside the holiday. But at Shavuot, there's nothing we need to do, per se, other than be conscious of the holiday and rejoice in it.

Shavuot celebrates z'man mattan Torateinu, the time of our receiving of the Torah at Sinai. And the reason we don't have big observances on this major festival, he said, is that we're already so immersed in what it commemorates. Because we live lives imbued with Torah, we're already celebrating, all the time -- at Shavuot, we just pause to remember and be glad.

A major rainstorm was coming, and thunderclaps punctuated Jeff's words like vast echoes of "Amen!" We held a short and sweet evening festival service, punctuated by one of my favorite niggunim, and then about eight of us settled in for an abbreviated tikkun leil Shavuot (late-night study session.)

We didn't try for an all-nighter, as we have the last few years; as our congregation grows younger (e.g. lots of families with little kids), achieving critical mass for an all-night affair on a weekday just isn't feasible. But we had a terrific study session even so; Elma taught a lesson on the meanings and implications of ruach (loosely, "spirit,") and Jeff taught a lesson on the last two commandments (the one about bearing false witness and the one about coveting) which drew on Talmud, the Chofetz Chaim, and a variety of other sources to explore the deep implications and nuances of those instructions in our lives.

And now the counting of the Omer is over. The spiritual passage from liberation to covenant has reached its fruition again; the anniversary of our covenant with the Source of Being has enlightened and enlivened us. Now we get to keep working on living out that covenant, creating lives that shine.

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