“We will Do, and We will Obey”
Sivan 7 5780
Due to Shavuot this portion lies outside the regular Torah readings and speaks of bringing a second tithe for those who have special needs such as the widow, the orphan and the foreigner. The Creator wants us to give with a willing heart, not out of a sense of obligation or the fear of punishment if we don’t give. This festival of Shavuot is a time of joy especially in Israel where they celebrate the early harvest with song and dance and a lot of fruit and flowers. Israel began as a nation of farmers having to cultivate the land which was so different than the land they had left. Egypt had a constant supply of water from the Nile while Israel was a dry, stony desert. They had to rely on the Creator for the rains so that their crops could grow. It took a lot of work to cultivate. Today, Israel is the leader in feeding the world by producing innovative farming techniques that help many countries to grow their own food. Organic foods, natural methods of destroying insects and rodents that threatened the harvest, exceptional methods of irrigation and pollinating were all developed in Israel. Thus, they are fulling the role given to Avram Avinu (our father Avram) in Genesis 12:3… all the nations would be blessed through them. Shavuot is the fulfillment of this blessing.
Pesach is the festival of deliverance and within the first three months, baby Israel would need to learn to trust in their Deliverer. If they refused to follow His instructions, there were consequences, not punishments. When they arrived at Mt. Sinai three months later, something very special happened. Shavuot is also called the festival of Matan Torateinu, the giving of the Torah at the base of Har Sinai, by our Creator. Moshe was then sent by our Creator to receive the Tablets after 40 days and 40 nights on the mount after which he brought down the tablets of the Ten Commandments, written in stone by the Finger of God. What is the comparison between the Harvest and the Torah? The harvest is the physical gift of life through food while the Torah is the gift of spiritual food. These Ten Commandments were meant for us to learn the principles on how to live a new way of life, not dependent solely upon the Creator but to help us grow and make our own decisions. Good decisions would harvest good results; bad decisions would harvest dire consequences.
Our sages say that Shavuot signified the wedding between the Creator and Israel with the Ten Commandments being the Ketubah. This was an eternal marriage in which the faithfulness of the Creator didn’t depend upon the faithfulness of Israel. What a beautiful picture for us today!
This is the only festival that has no extra rules or regulations. Basically, we were to bring our first fruits to the Creator, come to the place that He would name, share them with the community and rejoice. It is the only one of the seven Feasts where leavened bread was accepted, signifying that we could be proud of the hard work we had done, planting and reaping the harvest and fully enjoying the partnership with our Creator. He was blessing us and showing us that He is with us.
At this time, the world is living in fear due to this pandemic. Many people say that God is punishing the world for its disobedience, but when are we going to learn that we don’t have to blame God or others for the consequences of our own actions? World leaders are using this as an excuse to abuse the most vulnerable among us. If we allow evil people to do whatever they want while we keep silent, we have no one to blame but ourselves. Proverbs 31: 8-9 clearly tells us that we are to speak out for those who cannot speak for themselves. What does this have to do with Shavuot? We need to be grateful for all His provision and know that everything that we accomplish, we do so with His help. We are also called at this time to share our bounty with others especially those who cannot take care of themselves as portrayed by the orphan, widow and foreigner. The Creator wants a two-way relationship in which both sides are giving and receiving. When we are going through a difficult time, upon whom can we count? Each of us is responsible for each other. Many people fall into the trap of the welfare mentality. Where can I get the most handouts? If you give a man a fish, he eats for a day but if you teach him to fish, he eats for life.
Hebrew is a beautiful language giving us many pictures. Why do we eat fruit and dairy at Shavuot? Milk in Hebrew – חָלָב – chalav – has three letters which in gematria add up to number 40 (ח 8 + ל 30 + ב 2), the number of days Moshe was up on Mt Sinai. The land of Israel is a land of milk and honey. Milk represents the idea of nourishment for a baby with the Creator being our Nurturer. Honey is sweet like the Torah and is created by the bee which in Hebrew is “Deborah – דבורה” coming from the word, daber – דבר, meaning the word.
The basic Torah is the Ten Commandments. If we can simply understand and apply these, our lives would be blessed. Torah is not about us being legalistic, judgmental or narrow-minded. Sometimes we become very meticulous to the point of obsession with religious formulae and we forget the most important thing – that is, our hearts, out of which comes good and bad. The Torah contains teachings and principles for us to follow and apply according to each situation. The only tithing that the Creator wants is a willing one; in the same way, the Torah cannot be forced upon anyone, it needs to be followed with a willing heart. In Shemot, Exodus, when Moshe handed the tablets to the people, they all said, “we will do, and we will obey”. My desire is that at Shavuot we have a time of rejoicing, honouring and giving the Creator thanks for all that He has given us.