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Shavuot, Lost in Time

05/27/2020 02:58:05 PM


What day is it? Blursday? About fleven o' clock? A lot of people tell me that they have had trouble keeping track of time in the past few months. The hours, the days, the months run together. Shavuot is unique among Jewish holidays that it, too, is slightly lost in time.

The Torah tells us that the Israelites arrived at Mount Sinai on the first day of the month of Sivan and went through three days of purification, but you have do a bit of sleuthing to determine exactly how many days into Sivan the Torah was given.  Even the sages in the Talmud disagree about the exact date!

Meanwhile, the Torah describes an agricultural festival called Shavuot, which is observed “seven weeks after the Sabbath.” Apparently it the fiftieth day after some holy day of Passover, but it is not clear which one, and therefore up to interpretation as to how one starts the count relative to Passover. Here too, some ancient heretical sects chose divergent dates.

Of course, in our tradition, the anniversary of the giving of the Torah and the date of the agricultural observance match up exactly, on the sixth of Sivan, and we know Shavuot as Z’man Matan Torateinu - the time of the giving of the Torah.

We can interpret the seeming tenuousness of the connection between the festival and the event that it commemorates in several ways. Some would explain that perhaps this is a link/anniversary that was so deeply ingrained in popular understanding that there was no need for a record in the written tradition. 

I would suggest that the uncertainty has a different function. An open calendar means that every day has new opportunities if we are willing to seize them. The day on which the Torah was given was not specified explicitly because we must see every date, and every day, as having the potential for our deepened acceptance of revelation. We may feel that it was imposed on us, mystically speaking, standing at Sinai with God holding the mountain over our heads or, like Ruth, we can choose to accept it willingly and lovingly. In either case, God’s word is accessible to us with every new day. 

Tue, December 5 2023 22 Kislev 5784