Studying on Shavuot: From the feet of a man to the foot of a mountain

By Dina Yoshimi

Ten Commandments Tablets

Growing up in a Reform shul, I associated Shavuot with two rites of passage: consecration and confirmation. On Erev Shavuot, the rabbi would call all the children who were set to begin their Jewish studies in the Fall to the bima to be consecrated. The highlight for all those cute little ones scrambling up the stairs to join the rabbi was receiving their Ten Commandments pin. I still have mine tucked away. On the morning of Shavuot, it was time for the older kids to shine. The 10th grade confirmation class was filled with 16-year-olds ready to challenge everything they’d ever been told about God and Jewish tradition. They led the service, sharing their questions, and sometimes their answers, with the congregation. They had committed to continuing Jewish studies beyond the bar or bat mitzvah, and developed the maturity to bring their own Jewish perspectives to their lives. The highlight for that cohort of questing and questioning youngsters was the individualized blessing the rabbi bestowed on each student, and the gift of a beautiful Tanakh with gilded edges. I still have mine, but use it less frequently now since it lacks the Hebrew text.

The highlight of the evening, the reading of Megillat Ruth, was split between Hebrew chanters and English readers. Year upon year, this telling of the acts of ahavat chesed and g’milut chasadim by Ruth and Boaz evokes our deepest impulses ofAt our Sof observance of Shavuot, we exchanged these milestones of childhood for joyful gatherings of shared meals, communal study and prayer, and pleasant schmoozing, all pathways by which we access the full richness of the chag. A mighty cohort of nine Sofers kicked off Erev Shavuot this year with a potluck spread of vegetable and noodle dishes that prominently featured cheese, following the tradition of eating dairy products for the festive meals. The only thing missing was the “traditional” cheesecake.

The highlight of the evening, the reading of Megillat Ruth, was split between Hebrew chanters and English readers. Year upon year, this telling of the acts of ahavat chesed and g’milut chasadim by Ruth and Boaz evokes our deepest impulses of love and devotion to each other and to our people. This year, we pondered the wording of the verses that follow Ruth’s bearing a son to Boaz: “And Naomi took the child and placed him in her bosom, and she became his nurse. And the women neighbors gave him a name, saying, ‘A son has been born to Naomi…’” (Ruth 4:16-17). Our discussion focused on Naomi’s unexpected shift in role from mother-in-law of Ruth to mother of Ruth’s child. As we turned and turned the matter, our resident chacham Gregg shared that the word used for “nurse”, omenet, is the basis for a lengthy discussion in Breishit Rabbah to Genesis 1:1. Stay tuned for further study next year!

Although we did not spend the entire night studying Torah, a Sof-strong minyan of 14 adults and five children gathered on Shavuot morning for services, followed by a bountiful potluck (still no cheesecake!) and ample schmoozing. We rejoiced with psalms and Hallel, stood to receive the Aseret HaDibrot, and spent a quiet moment to daven Yizkor before concluding with the Festival Musaf. For the Torah readers, an enhanced coffee table-cum-bima, (Thank you, Don!) made the reading from the Armstrong Torah all the more delightful.

Mixed among the joyful activity of the children and the kavannah of the kehillah, a familiar spirit of peace, awe and joy infused this gathering at the home of Sandy and Don. Shavuot celebrates z’man matan torateinu, the time of the giving of our Torah. This festival takes us from the perspective of the lowliest soul to reconnecting with the pinnacle of Jewish experience with the Almighty. Befitting of this observance, the Sof kehillah brought its whole-hearted and full-throated contributions to sanctify and rejoice in the blessings of the chag.

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