The Shabbat After Shavuot

June 6, 2014

Every week, Jody Hirsh, the JCC's Judaic Education Director, provides a Judaic message that is featured at the top of the JCC's weekly email newsletter. Below is the Shabbat message for Friday, June 6, 2014.

The Shabbat After Shavuot

Now we’re post Shavuot – The Feast of Weeks. Nothing is different, of course, but if we’re really connecting to the holiday which has just passed, we should be thinking of Torah. Shavuot, tradition tells us, is the anniversary of the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. And, of course, Torah, the Five Books of Moses, is the center of the Jewish religion. The Rabbis tell us that there are two ways to come to the moral conclusions: we can understand the morality of not murdering or not stealing or giving charity because they are commandments from God, given to us on Mount Sinai. The Torah, say the rabbis, gives us a code of laws. And if we follow those laws, we will make moral choices according to a preordained blueprint of morality. However, the rabbis admit that it might be possible to derive those rules of morality based on logic alone! That’s why every human being, Jew and Non-Jew, can live a moral life even if they don’t accept the Torah. If fact, a person can be a moral being even if he or she never even heard of God or the Torah.

The text of the Torah itself mentions different kinds of laws including Chukkim and Mishpatim. On the surface, these terms seem like synonyms for the concept of “law” or “commandment.” Chukkim could be translated “decrees,” and Mishpatim could be translated “laws” or “judgements.” The rabbinic tradition, however, sees these words as very different kind of laws. Mishpatim are those very laws which we could derive logically. Even without the Torah, we could figure out that murder or theft is wrong. Chukkim, on the other hand, defy logic. These are laws that are particular to the Jewish people. The laws commanding us to observe Passover, then to observe Shavuot seven weeks later are Chukkim. The laws to keep kosher are Chukkim. And the laws about observing the Sabbath are Chukkim. I suppose we could find some logic in observing the Sabbath . . . it’s a great idea. We need to rest from our work and renew our bodies and spirits. But why is the Sabbath the seventh day? Why not the sixth, or the tenth?

It’s in our holidays and Sabbaths and rituals, that we are uniquely Jewish. And when it comes to the Sabbath, it is one of the many gifts that the Jewish people gave to the world. The seven-day week is universally observed through the planet! And even when people don’t think about it. Or when they’re Christian or Hindu or Buddhist – it is definitely part of the worldwide culture of time.

Shabbat Shalom