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Reb Zalman reads the book of Ruth

Anticipating Shavuot

Shavuot is coming up fast: next Thursday night, a mere ten days from now. I just put together the lesson that I'll be teaching at our tikkun (late-night study session): a gorgeous short Hasidic text about what we heard / saw at Sinai, which contains implications for how we should treat one another and how we should live mindfully. It's the final text that we studied in my Moadim l'Simcha (Hasidic sacred year) class. I've excerpted part of my translation of it, and put it together with some discussion questions. It's a really beautiful piece of writing; I'll post it here after our tikkun is over.

Of course, if you're in or near northern Berkshire, you're welcome to join us. This year, like last year and the year before, my little shul is joining forces with the Reconstructionist shul up the road. We'll meet at the Williams College Jewish Religious Center at 8pm for a short and sweet evening festival service, and then transition into learning and schmoozing and noshing. Nine different community members are teaching lessons this year, on all sorts of Torah subjects. We'll have some teaching about psalms, some music, some teachings about the land of Israel, some teachings about water and revelation, some teachings about Torah as lover, and some teachings about the akedah and about circumcision -- among others!

Usually we start learning around 9 and we wrap up between 1 and 2. So not an all-nighter, by any stretch, but it runs late enough into the night to feel unusual, to open up the possibility that we might be opening ourselves to wisdom which comes from beyond us, which is part of what Shavuot is all about.

Also, naturally, there will be cheesecake. Because eating dairy on Shavuot is a well-established custom. Why? Well, unsurprisingly, there's no single accepted answer to that question. I like a couple of the reasons that offers -- that the Torah is likened to milk and honey, and that in gematria (Jewish number-math; remember that Hebrew letters are also numerals, so each word has a mathematical value) the word for milk (chalav) equals 40, as in the 40 days that Moshe spent atop Mount Sinai. Also, the gematria of the word for cheese is 70, which corresponds to the saying that Torah has seventy faces. To these, I would add simply that cheesecake is yummy.

(If you do decide to join us for our learning, bring something to snack on -- but kosher foods only, with an OU hechsher, to preserve the kashrut of the JRC. Me, I'm probably bringing fresh fruit. Easier that way.)

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