Shavuot, once a harvest festival, now represents the so-called
giving of the Torah. In synagogues all over the world, there is great joy and excitement, with Torah study going on all through the night, into the dawn– re-enacting the biblical tale of the Jews waiting at Mt. Sinai for the Torah to be revealed.
Such poetry is, of course, part of the Jewish experience, and I’m never one to shun the beauty of legends, even if factually untrue. The “rational” inheritance in modern branches of Judaism, such as classic Reform which is my formal legacy, sometimes did get a little overboard, stripping away sentiment, the heart-view of an event, and the mysteries of human interpretation, which become legends–. even legends treated, over time, as fact.
Now, if you’ve been following our little blog, you will know that I am not Orthodox. I am observant in the literal meaning of the world: I look. I observe. I see how Life works. I study it. I study myself. Over time, it is actually possible– and prolonged meditation can help– to actually begin to discern “How God Works for Good”, i.e. to have an experience of God.
This is the result of being truly observant. One learns the laws from Life!
Indeed, one can have a personal revelation, and begin to fathom, personally, some of the spiritual experiences that are underneath the recorded Torah. This is possible! The proof of this assertion is only in the under-taking of this.
However, this kind of personal revelation, which is very real, and which can dawn upon anyone who chooses to be diligent enough to pursue it, is not the kind of “bells and whistle”, or rather “lightning striking” revelation of the legend of Sinai.
I am not, at all, a believer in the facticity of this event. To believe this event, use it as a justification for the transmission of authority, eventually to the rabbis, sets up “religion”. And, while it may seem a contradiction, I am not a religious rabbi. Religion, to me, is a secondary phenomena! Life is first.
The true revelation of Life, the ability to actually raise one’s consciousness, as if on a mount top, and begin to glean the deep, astronishing order of how Life works, the intricate workings of middah kneged middah (measure for measure, sowing or reaping, karma, if you prefer), IS Sinai. And because such an experience may be had, one need not, in principle doubt that there might be prophet, such as a Moses, who could possibly have gleaned this knowledge and promulgated.
The legend about revelation may be exaggeration, but, it has a basis in spiritual experience, in spiritual FACT.
The story of the receiving of the Torah on Sinai, may not be fact, as we record it, but, this does not mean it is empty of TRUTH.. It is unfortunate, that the distinction between Truth and Fact, is all too readily blurred.
There is Truth in fiction, sometimes, in fact, more than in fact! Because embedded in the hearts of writers, including redactors of the Torah, is a spiritual power– of human insight and meaning– which, released from the prison of fact, can take flight, and sometimes fancy, and transfigure the mere event into a living symbol, something worthy of veneration, such as a Shavuot “all nighter”, even if it is “rationally” not rational.
This brings me to the point I want to make.
It is extremely sad that many liberal religionists wish to strip away all the beauty and poetry, and attempt to reduce Judaism simply to what is knowable, quantifiable as if that is what so-called “science” is.
But— that is NOT science. Science too has inspiration. Science too can have sudden “AHA’S”.
It is the opening up the depth and breadth of the human being that is the foundation of both religion and science.
Universal Judaism teaches a scientific spirituality. It is taught systematically. It is taught by putting Life first– because we know THAT is REAL (and if we don’t believe it to be real, what is the point!)— and then traditional teachings second. But, that being done, the traditional teachings are looked at for the meaning, the insight, and the tool that they can be for the transfiguration of the baser elements of the human nature, into more exalted natures: To raise us from the dust of the desert, to the top of a mountain!
If Moses can have a halo— if that is truly possible— then, WE can have a halo, or halos do not exist, unless we are not human, or Moses isn’t one too. The test of the truth of religion, no less than the test of truth in any scientific experiment is repeatability of experience— the ability to repeat a spiritual experience recorded, systematically, and consensually (meaning multiple people, multiple viewpoints in agreement).
For practitioners of Universal Judaism, Shavuot is a Yom Kabbalat, a day ofenlightenment, a Yom Chochmat, a day of Wisdom. It celebrates the human
facility to study the mechanisms of life, and clean general principles, be they some scientific “law”, like E=MC2 or some kind of a moral “law”, like Thou Shalt Not Murder.
So, in this sense, it is very fitting that Shavuot began as a harvest festival.
But, in a more abstract, more rarified, way– the harvest is now KNOWLEDGE.
It can take quite a lot of toiling in the field-of-mind, to bring back a harvest of knowledge. But, it is upon knowledge that any ESSENTAL Judaism must be
based. Not mere reverential knowledge from the past, but, Living Knowledge.
Please do not seek religion. SEEK KNOWLEDGE which is the foundation
of any religion worth its truth-claims.. If they don’t have knowledge, don’t go
Blessings to everyone,