Monday, May 17, 2010

Shavuot, or that holiday that makes you go, "huh?"

Shavuot is on Wednesday. Shavuot is the holiday that celebrates the giving of the Torah (old testament to some of you, but basically, the 5 Books of Moses: Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Leviticus and Deuteronomy). Or, the Jews' receiving the Torah from G-d, depending on how you want to look at it.

Normally, I'm at a bit of a loss as to how to properly observe Shavuot. There really aren't any rituals associated with this holiday, unlike Passover, with the matzah and bitter herbs and reading of the Haggadah, or Sukkot, where we sit in our little home-made booths and shake our willow branches, or Yom Kippur, where we pray and fast, or even Chanukah, where we light candles for 8 nights. There are traditions, like eating cheesecake, or (trying) to stay up all night learning Torah, but those are just traditions, not mitzvot (commandments) associated with the day.

This year, I have no problem. The Torah was given to us, the soon-to-be Jewish people, at Mt. Sinai, on our way out of Egypt to the land G-d promised us, thousands of years ago. The Torah has been our guide book, our book of laws, our instructions on how to live since then. From the Torah, we learn how to treat guests, we learn to respect our parents, we learn to think about the food we eat, how to treat our animals, even our land. We are told to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.

From the story of Abraham's circumsion, when he is visited by G-d during his recuperation (Genesis 18:1), we learn of the importance of visiting the sick. This lesson became the life-raft that kept me afloat during this past month. When I found myself in the Emergency Room a month ago, followed by a two-week hospital stay, followed by surgery, not a day went by in the hospital without someone visiting me. And that's not counting Morey and my sister, who spent so much time by my side. My classmates from Nishmat, the seminary where I learn, came and made me laugh, brought me illicit treats and gave me something to look forward to day after day. My cousin and her husband walked on Shabbat and kept me from feeling sorry for myself for spending Shabbat in the hospital. Friends I barely know, and friends I know well came from around the corner and from a 40-minute bus ride away. Some took time out of their holidays to visit. The hospital rabbi employs people to check in on patients and visit with them, and at least 3 different religious men went into each and every room, to every bed to wish the occupant a "r'fuah shlema" (basically, a healing for your soul, but it's shorthand for a prayer for healing that we say in each of our 3-times-a day prayers). Someone came around with free newspapers, and a lovely, oh-so-shy young woman came around with goodie bags. My phone has never been so busy as it was during those two weeks in hospital, with calls from family, friends, acquintances, neighbours who couldn't make it into Jerusalem, even my teachers and Rabbi from Nishmat.

I have been so blessed by all the love and care that was showered on me - and Morey. We say it in our prayers every day, "bikur cholim" (visit the sick), but how many of us actually take it to heart? I know I really didn't. This year, I'm going to focus on this Torah lesson (opens a pdf), and be truly grateful for all the people who do take this mitzvah seriously, and be thankful to Hashem for giving us this commandment. It's not easy to visit someone who is sick, and hospitals are no one's idea of a fun place to hang out. But for those who accept that performing this mitzvah is bigger than their discomfort, from the bottom of my heart, bless you. Chag Sameach