Tomorrow evening, we begin the festival of Shavuot. Shavuot celebrates the moment when our ancestors stood at Mt. Sinai and entered into the covenant with one another and with God. More than that, however, according to tradition, when our ancestors agreed to accept the Torah and live by its moral and ethical mandates, they had company.
As we read in the Book of Deuteronomy 29:
I make this covenant, with its sanctions, not with you alone, but both with those who are standing here with us this day before our God יהוה and with those who are not with us here this day. (Deuteronomy 29: 13-14)
So while our ancestors may have physically stood at Mt. Sinai, the Torah itself tells us that, in a spiritual sense, we were there as well. In other words, the covenant was not a one-time event, but instead, it was a living agreement that each generation is called upon to embrace, uphold and strengthen.
From its very beginning, Judaism has been a religious and spiritual tradition that is rooted in community. It is why we pray as part of a minyan. It is why we fill the homes of those who are grieving during shiva. And it is why synagogues remain the foundational building block of Jewish communal life. As the adage goes, “One Jew is no Jew.”
And it is why Jewish communal life often feels out of place or anathema to modern society. In a culture that venerates rugged individualism, Judaism, with its emphasis on community, debate and mutual responsibility, can often seem quaint. In reality, however, it is the antidote to much of what ails today’s world. If everyone could stop thinking only about themselves and instead think about how our individual actions impact others, the world would be a far healthier, and holier, place.
Until that happens, however, we will continue to swim against the tide. But, as we do, I remain confident that others will join with us, and ultimately, we will be able to shape the world in a manner that is more loving and respectful for all.
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach,
Rabbi Daniel Cohen