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Shavuot: The Greatest Gift that Keeps on Giving

Where to start about describing my recent two-week pilgrimage to Israel

to visit my 24-year-old son Jack who has lived in Jerusalem for the last nine months to teach English to Israeli elementary school children???  First, a little kvelling…While Jack creates project-based curriculum to teach these kids basic English words and concepts, these fourth-sixth graders help him brush up on his Hebrew, so its a win-win. In his spare time, Jack has spearheaded study groups led by rabbis, empowered at-risk teens and young adults to breakdance, and coached a youth baseball team on the side, to name a few extra curricular activities, all while networking with Jewish peers, educators, and leaders from all over the world. The last time I visited Israel was with a group of Jewish moms six years ago, and this time around was even more fulfilling because I not only had a greater appreciation for my homeland, but also because I was with my husband and in-laws who had never been to Israel. To witness them experience a deeper understanding and love of Israel, whether it was when we explored Masada, or toured the innovation museum,  or walked through the underground bullet factory, was well worth the 12-hour plane ride to get there and the jet lag that lasted for days. I’ve been photo blogging about our journey to Tel Aviv, Tzvat, and Jerusalem, on my Facebook page HERE.  So, while I continue to process how incredible my time was in “The City of Gold” with Jack, who has made the holy land his second home, I guess you could say I had my own personal revelation,  just in time for the upcoming holiday of Shavuot, which marks the 3,331-year anniversary of the Jewish people receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai. Turns out my family was in the land of milk and honey during the month of Omer leading up to the single most important moment in of all of human history–when God entrusted the Ten Commandments to Moses and the Israelites. This was the time when the Jews were given a responsibility to not only accept the teachings of the Torah but to pass these valuable life lessons from generation to generation. On this trip to Israel, I took in an intense amount of learning about myself and Judaism and I know that wherever I go in this world, I will take this feeling of Yerushalayim with me. The Midrash tells us that before Hashem gave us the Torah, we had to pledge that “Our children will be our guarantors!”  And many time, it’s our children who are teaching us, and I definitely feel that Jack inspires me in many ways to be a better person.

Even though Shavuot is one of the three major Jewish pilgrimage festivals, sandwiched in between  Passover and Sukkot, or precisely 49 days after the second day of Pesach, which is a period of time known as Omer, Shavuot is not as widely celebrated among less observant Jews because the rituals associated with it are not as specific as other holidays. Still, Jewish people have plenty of exciting ways to celebrate on Shavuot–participating in all-night study sessions, reciting special prayers, decorating the synagogue with flowers, eating cheesecake and blintzes (see why we eat dairy HERE), and reading the megillah, the Book of Ruth: the story of a young Moabite woman who improbably casts her lot with the Jewish people and became the great-great-grandmother of its most important monarch, King David. In Israel, this springtime festival also means massive crowds enjoy water balloon fights and squirt each other with hoses—why? Because the Torah is sometimes compared to the life-giving properties of water, and temperatures are heating up in the holy land, so why not get wet and play outside. Shavuot, called the “Feast of the Weeks,” also celebrates the harvest season in and this is a great time to venture out into Israel’s nature and hike alongside streams or visit swimming holes and refreshing springs to cool off and be with nature during this harvest season.

During this seven-week period of Omer, we work on self-growth and development so that we are better prepared to accept the Torah. These emotoinal attributes or character traits include:

  1. Chesed ― Loving-kindness
  2. Gevurah ― Justice and discipline
  3. Tiferet ― Harmony, compassion
  4. Netzach ― Endurance
  5. Hod ― Humility
  6. Yesod ― Bonding
  7. Malchut ― Sovereignty, leadership

Omer gives us the opportunity to continually refine ourselves so that by the time Shavout rolls around on Saturday night, seven weeks after Passover, our psyche is more open to understand the teachings in the Torah, and this cycle of learning never ends. Shavuot reminds us that we are all works in progress, and that we are much better off pursing our true purpose than becoming stressed out chasing happiness, which often goes unfulfilled without  an understanding of God’s spark within each of us.

My recent journey to Jerusalem, where we immersed ourselves on Shabbos in the Old City,  trudged through the underground tunnels of the Kotel, ate our way through The Shuk, and picnicked in the park on Israel Indepdence Day, and walked the beach in Tel Aviv overlooking the Mediterrenean Sea, and so much more, has profoundly reinforced that I have a responsibility to live a Jewish life, continue to learn, and connect with my community back home. After all, Shavuot is all about exploring our unique gift’s and abilities so that we can create a peaceful, fulfilling, and meaningful life.  And that gift of self awarness, which deepens our relationships with others, is the true gift of the Torah which keeps on giving.

Ever wonder what the world would be like if the Jewish people never received the Torah? Then Check out this video! Chag Shavuot Samaech and Shabbat Shalom!