On Tuesday night, I arrived back from a wonderful trip to Israel. It was mainly to join the 70 6th formers and student leaders from our Yehudi programme on their Yom Yerushalayim trip. We are very blessed with the young leaders we have.
So, on Wednesday morning I was suitably tired, so I went for the Shteibel experience. It is the latest minyan in Edgware, 9am, and very important after international travel!
I walked in and was immediately struck by the beautiful floral chupah that had been built over the bimah. The floor was covered in grass mats and over the Aron Kodesh there was a semi-circular floral fixture.
For a second, in my tired state I thought, they must have a chupah that day. Of course, it suddenly dawned on me that they did have a wedding coming up in the Shteibel – Shavuot. How beautiful and how inspiring.
We know about the minhag of flowers in shul, to remind us of the miracle of the greenery around Har Sinai, but the chupah of flowers really brought the idea home of the true nature of Shavuot – the anniversary of the wedding between Hashem – His Torah and the Jewish People.
How is that marriage doing?
On the one hand, it is incredibly strong. There are more Jews learning Torah globally than in our history. Daf Yomi is growing day by day, the availability of Torah ideas, classes and texts is unprecedented. Translations of most works are available, opening Torah to the masses. Our marriage to Hashem and His Torah is so strong.
On the other hand, it is a disaster. Intermarriage and assimilation are climbing globally, there is huge disconnect from Torah and Israel in many parts of the diaspora, especially amongst our young people. The lure of the secular and many times antithetical world view of the Western world is getting stronger and luring many to new “religious” beliefs and away from Judaism. Our marriage to Hashem and His Torah is so weak.
How can this be? How can we as a nation be heading in two vastly different directions?
The answer is that the majority of the first group have been blessed to have grown up in a world of Yiddishkeit, of shul, of chagim, of mitzvot. They, in the main, have grown to love Torah, to see it as something positive, something wonderful, something to pass on to their children.
Conversely, the majority of the second group have not had a strong Jewish upbringing. For many, Judaism is an ancient relic from the past. There is very little knowledge, no depth, no investment in acquiring Torah, of living Torah. It is a tragedy – but Shavuot gives us hope.
I read this idea in the Haderech magazine for Shavuot but can’t remember which Rav authored it – so apologies.
On Shavuot, we read in Megillat Ruth
And Ruth said, “Do not entreat me to leave you, to return from following you, for wherever you go, I will go, and wherever you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people and your God my God. (Ruth 1:16)
Rashi comments on this pasuk:
From here our Sages derived that a [prospective] proselyte who comes to convert is told some of the punishments [for violating the commandments], so that if they decides to renege, they can renege, for out of Ruth’s words, you learn what Naomi said to her: “We may not go out of the boundary [of 2,000 cubits on all sides] on the Sabbath.” She replied to her, “Wherever you go, I will go.” “We are prohibited to allow a female to be secluded with a male who is not her husband.” She replied, “Wherever you lodge, I will lodge.” “Our people is separated from the other peoples with 613 commandments.” [She replied,] “Your people is my people.” “Idolatry is forbidden to us.” “Your God is my God.”
Ruth said four statements, according to Rashi, in answer to the four statements of Naomi. The statements were dealing with prohibitions and were therefore in the negative. Yet, Ruth replied in the positive. She could have answered to each prohibition in the way it was asked ‘Wherever you cannot go, I will not go, wherever you cannot lodge, I will not lodge etc, i.e. I too will be bound by the negative commandments.
However, Ruth did not do that, she turned it around, seeing it as a positive outcome.
So much of our relationship to Torah is determined by our outlook and our perceptions. Do we see Torah as a gift, as a blessing and as a delight. Or conversely do we see it as a bind, as an annoyance and a something we have to do.
Shavuot is calling to us, it is our wedding anniversary. There should be love, joy, passion and a realisation that anything in life that is a powerful as Torah will take time and effort to acquire, it is a lifetime of commitment and yes, sometimes struggle.
All of us this Shavuot must reaffirm our commitment to the Divine message that is needed now more than ever. We can hope and pray that all members of our first group demonstrate to the world and their fellow Jews a love of Torah combined with a life of a Kiddush Hashem which hopefully will penetrate into the hearts and minds of Jews all around the world to reconnect to our life essence – Torah.
That is exactly what our wonderful 70 Yehudi leaders from the Yom Yerushalayim trip and many others are doing, they are role models, connecting to hundreds of young Jewish children here in the UK, showing, by positive example that Judaism is a part of their lives and can be part of their and their family lives as well.
Positive, relevant, enjoyable, inspirational and for everyone. That is the message our Yehudi madrichim are giving to their students about Torah and Judaism.