The first night of the Jewish holiday Shavuot begins Thursday, and one Canadian rabbi says the holiday carries a universal message about humility and bridging opposite views.
“It’s the anniversary of the giving of the Torah [around 3,500] years ago,” said Rabbi Moshe Goldman, Jewish chaplain of the Rohr Chabad Centre for Jewish Life in Waterloo, Ont., in a phone interview with CTVNews.ca. “This is the launch party for Judaism.”
Shavuot, which means “weeks” in Hebrew, is celebrated by studying Torah. Goldman explained the holiday marks the 50-day countdown since Passover.
“The story goes that the night before God gave Jews the Torah at Mount Sinai, they went to sleep. And when God came to give them the Torah, they were still sleeping. The Jews slept in.”
Goldman equated this to “sleeping in the day of your wedding.”
“Ever since then, the custom is to correct that by staying up all night studying Torah.”
On Thursday night, the first night of the two-night holiday, synagogues will have a series of programming, classes and one-on-one individual study sessions.
“When I grew up I just sat in shul, studying Torah until dawn, or until I fell asleep,” Goldman said.
He added that a major component of the celebration is the Torah reading of the Ten Commandments, an event where “the whole family makes an effort to be there.”
Another custom entails eating dairy-based foods.
“One of the simplest reasons is that the Jews had just received the Torah and they just had all the rules of kosher, which they didn’t have before, and preparing kosher meats is a process of slaughtering and salting and cleaning the meat,” Goldman said.
Dairy, he explained, was a much easier alternative to maintaining kosher dietary restrictions.
“In some ways, the first way of observing the kosher laws was actually having a dairy meal. Ever since then, Shavuot is a time to go crazy on the dairy.”
But aside from reading Torah and eating cheesecake and blintzes, Goldman says that the holiday has a larger message that applies to all Canadians, regardless of religious affiliations.
“Society is very polarized. There’s a lot of polarity, a lot of division. A lot of misunderstood groups get angry and frustrated because nobody gets them,” he said. “The whole idea of the Torah, what the Torah is here to achieve, and what the mission of Judaism is beyond tactical religious observance is to demonstrate that the two opposites of any given thing — the right and left of politics, any opposing views that are equally valid — could be bridged.”
Goldman spoke about how the Torah and Shavuot are an effort to break the chains of ego and devote yourself to the “humility of study.”
“The whole purpose is to guide us to an understanding that two opposites are not contradictory. They complete each other and are all necessary,” he said.
“Your challenge as a human being in this world is to live a life where, in your own way, you strive to combine opposites and devote yourself to something bigger than yourself.”