The first night of the Jewish holiday Shavuot begins Thursday, and a Canadian rabbi says the holiday carries a universal message about humility and coming together of opposing viewpoints.
“It is the anniversary of the giving of the Torah [around 3,500] years ago,” said Rabbi Moshe Goldman, Jewish chaplain at the Rohr Chabad Center for Jewish Life in Waterloo, Ontario, in a phone interview with CTVNews.ca. “This is the launch party for Judaism.”
Shavuot, which means “weeks” in Hebrew, is celebrated by studying Torah. Goldman explained that the holiday marks the 50-day countdown from Pesach.
“The story goes that the night before God gave the Jews the Torah on Mount Sinai, they went to sleep. And when God came to give them the Torah, they were still sleeping. The Jews slept late.
Goldman likened this to “sleeping on your wedding day.”
“Since then, the custom is to correct that by staying up all night studying Torah.”
On Thursday evening, the first night of the two-night holiday, synagogues will host a series of one-on-one programs, classes and individual study sessions.
“Growing up, I would sit in shul, study Torah until dawn or until I fell asleep,” Goldman said.
He added that an important component of the celebration is the reading of the Torah of the Ten Commandments, an event where “the whole family makes an effort to be there.”
Another custom involves eating dairy-based foods.
“One of the simplest reasons is that the Jews had just received the Torah and had all the rules of kosher, which they didn’t have before, and preparing kosher meats is a process of slaughtering, salting, and cleaning the meat.” Goldman said.
Dairy, he explained, was a much easier alternative to keeping kosher dietary restrictions.
“Somehow the first way to observe kosher laws was to eat a dairy meal. Since then, Shavuot is a time to go crazy with dairy.”
But in addition to reading the Torah and eating cheesecake and blintzes, Goldman says the holiday has a broader message that applies to all Canadians, regardless of their religious affiliations.
“Society is very polarized. There is a lot of polarity, a lot of division. Many misunderstood groups get angry and frustrated that no one understands them,” she said. “The whole idea of the Torah, what the Torah is here to accomplish, and what the mission of Judaism is beyond tactical religious observance is to show that the two opposites of any given thing: the right and the left of politics , any opposing points of view that are equally valid, could be bridged”.
Goldman spoke about how Torah and Shavuot are an effort to break the chains of ego and engage in the “humility of study.”
“The whole purpose is to guide us towards the understanding that two opposites are not contradictory. They are completed and they are all necessary, ”he said.
“Your challenge as a human being in this world is to live a life where, in your own way, you strive to combine opposites and dedicate yourself to something bigger than yourself.”