Today is the second day of Shavuot, the Jewish holiday of revelation. Like Rosh Hashanah, this is a one-day holiday. Hopefully, next year I will be able to provide a fuller explanation of why more traditional Jews celebrate these holidays as two days and others celebrate one day.
Shavuot means "weeks" in Hebrew. We arrive at the day by counting omer (an ancient unit of measurement, a sheaf of grain) for seven weeks from the second day of Passover. On the fiftieth day, we celebrate Shavuot. Originally, this was an agricultural holiday - focused on bringing first fruits to the Temple. Then, the rabbis connected the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai with the holiday, hence the focus on revelation. The primary way to celebrate the holiday is with an all-night study session on the night it begins (which was Saturday, June 11, 2016).
This holiday always reminds me of the Shavuot 2011 / 5771, when I reaffirmed my deep desire to go to rabbinical school and recommitted to my daily spiritual practice in particular and Judaism in general. This year, I have almost completed the application process for the Academy for Jewish Religion Rabbinical School.*
Of course, recent events have rattled me. I am particularly distraught that many people have responded to the mass murder at a nightclub in Orlando by denouncing religion in general, and Islam in particular.
More articulate writers have written about separating Islam from false ideology that claims the mantle of that faith. I would like to focus on challenging the knee-jerk reaction of the radical left to disparage all forms of religion when acts of terror occur. Religion is not the problem: humans are the problem. Specifically, humans in the grip of evil.
I define religion as a wisdom tradition that helps people connect with their souls and be the best version of themselves. Within any community, defining the boundaries of the community can lead some people to disparage The Other. Sometimes, that disparagement leads people into the grip of the Sitra Achra (literally "the Other Side," which is the realm of evil).
I reject labeling evil acts as religious acts for many reasons. First and foremost, evil is a real and dangerous force in the world. Evil cloaks itself in many guises. By accepting its false claim on religion, we give evil more power to distort our understanding of the world. I absolutely believe in denouncing false ideologies. Refusing to connect those false ideologies with religion is how I align myself with The Good and challenge evil.
It is hard to focus on revelation when your country is reeling from the worst mass-murder in its history. Nevertheless, I find it important to dwell within The Good as a counter-measure to evil's grip. I offer the below reflection as my contribution to helping us turn toward peace. To be clear: I respect the focus on challenging public policy in the wake of mass murder. But our lives are not zero-sum games. We can pray and we can discuss politics and the desire to do one should not negate the force or importance of the other.
On Saturday night, Rabbi Finley taught from a famous midrash, which we have studied before at Ohr HaTorah. In trying to deeply understand the first word of the Torah, b'reishit, the rabbis went to Proverbs Chapter 8, verse 30. In this verse, Wisdom states: "Then I was by Him, as a nursling (amon) and I was daily all delight."
Deeply imagine Wisdom as HaShem's nursling. Do you have any experience nursing a baby? I can tell you that it deeply changes the nursing parent as much as it changes the nursling. The process of creating breastmilk is magical - it is not a formula humans can create using cognitive ability; it is truly a form of alchemy that changes the food I ingest into food my baby can eat. As the nursling grows, she gains independence and becomes something wholly distinct from her parents, yet still deeply connected to them. Recognizing this relationship as the essential connection between Wisdom and HaShem is quite powerful.
I pray we find wisdom within ourselves. I pray we honor and respect each other as soul-endowed beings. I pray we challenge evil and never accept its guises.
*My decision to apply to rabbinical school will be the subject of a future post. For now, know that I intend to continue working part-time at NationBuilder as a Senior Product Writer.