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Shavuot: Are We Celebrating the Torah Being Given or Received?

by Jodi S. Rosenfeld, Ritualwell Intern

In just a few days, we will celebrate the holy day of Shavuot, a festival that includes the commemoration of the biblical wheat harvest, the tradition of eating cheesecake, the reading of the Book of Ruth, all-night study sessions, and, perhaps primarily, the commemoration of the revelation at Mount Sinai. The festival is also known in Hebrew as z’man matan toratenu, the time of the giving of our Torah.

This giving—when Adonai gives Moses the Ten Commandments (and some say the entire Torah) on Mount Sinai—is a particular moment in our story. Whether we understand this moment as historical or mythological, it is in the past; it has a specific place in our Jewish timeline.

Many contemporary teachers and learners prefer to think of Shavuot as a celebration of receiving Torah rather than of its being given. For some, the receiving of Torah can be understood as continual. While the story of the revelation at Mount Sinai may have occurred at a particular moment in the past, we receive Torah every day. Whether or not we all stood at Sinai becomes somewhat irrelevant; we are always learning from, taking in, receiving Torah in every moment of our contemporary lives.

What does this moment-to-moment receiving of Torah look like? Does it take place when we study ancient texts? When we mend a broken friendship? When we watch a fledgling bird take its first flight? When we struggle? When we love?

This Shavuot, I invite you to recite the following blessing:

Blessed are You, Adonai, Breath of the world

for opening my heart and mind

so that I may continue to receive your Torah

in every moment

in all the ways that you reveal it to me.

If you would like to talk with a rabbi about what receiving Torah means to you, why not book a session through Rabbi Connect?

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