Friday, May 15, 2015
We're now most of the way from Passover to Shavuos, the second of our yearly festivals, and the anniversary of our meeting with G-d at Mount Sinai. Instead of chocolate-covered matzah and flourless brownies, we'll soon savor rich cheesecake, blintzes, and other dairy foods customarily eaten on Shavuos. But before we head out to the store, I have to mention a great display of achdus that I saw this spring during Pesach. It wasn't at shul, or at the Passover seder, but in the grocery aisles.
As I strolled with my cart through the Passover section, looking out for double chocolate macaroons and other Pesach sweets, I noticed lots of my fellow Jews, and Jews of many different stripes, or slices. It was wonderful to see different kinds of Jews starting up conversations with each other, asking for help finding something or chatting with people they didn't even know. I heard one person say how great it was to see so many of us there together.
During the original fifty days between Passover and Shavuos, our ancestors excitedly prepared for their rendezvous with G-d at Mt. Sinai. But the Torah tells us that as the Jews moved from one camp to the next, they struggled with disputes and strife between different parts of the nation. Yet when the Jewish people arrived at Sinai, they had become unified, camping together "like one [person], with one heart."1
The commentators explain that it was our achdus, our oneness as a people, that made the Revelation at Sinai possible. If we hadn't been united, HaShem would not have spoken to us there at the mountain. We weren't even yet all dedicated to G-d, united in the same goal, though that did follow. Rather, it was because we had become one nation living together in harmony that HaShem spoke to us.2
People in different parts of the Jewish family sometimes think that one quality in particular makes a Jew: it's your ethnicity, or whether you observe Jewish law, or your support for Israel, or if your Mom keeps breadsticks in her purse. But at Sinai we showed that what really matters is that we are all brothers and sisters, members of one family.3
The sage Avnei Nezer relates this to a mishnah that says "Any love that depends on a specific thing, when that thing is gone, the love is gone; but if it does not depend on a specific thing, it will never cease."4 Looks, brains, a Jewish nose, keeping Shabbat - these things can change. But when you realize that your heart and soul are bound up with another, that you complete each other, that's the kind of love that's gonna last.
In the Jewish community in my hometown, there's a special kind of achdus in our grocery store. If there's ever only one box left of a certain kosher item in the freezer, we all leave it for the next Jew, for someone who truly needs it. No one knows if the person before them was tall, short, Conservative, or Breslov, all we know is - that box stays there for a long time. That's the kind of achdus we had at Sinai, and that's why HaShem fell for us there.
The time from Passover to Shavuos is also known as the courtship period between the Jewish people and G-d. At Passover, we went out on the big first date. On Shavuos, we experienced the intimacy of our wedding night. But for the love to last, we have to maintain our unity as a people. HaShem loves the Jews as a whole, everyone included. If even a single Jew is missing, our closeness to G-d fades too.
To make our connection this Shavuos, we need everyone: Sephardim and Ashkenazim, religious and secular, women and men. No matter how seemingly odd a pairing of Jews, we're still both Jewish, so we have a lot in common. We also have our differences, to be sure. But if the infinite Creator of the universe could fall for the smallest nation on earth, there's hope for us too!
So when you're at the grocery store preparing for Shavuos, look out for your fellow Jews. Make a little eye contact, smile, and say Shalom. Love your fellow Jews, whether they're Israeli, American, Ethiopian, Chassidic, Reconstructionist, Modern - any of those fine Jewish flavors. And if there's only one more box of cheesecake, do the Jewish thing and leave it for someone who truly needs it. If everything goes well for us on Shavuous night, we might all be hungry later for a little something sweet.
1 Rashi, Shemos 19:2↩
2 R. Yissocher Frand, "Parshas Yisro: Not Just A Case of Politics Making Strange Bedfellows", torah.org, http://www.torah.org/learning/ravfrand/5769/yisro.html↩
3 See comment to Why Now? by Mighty Garnel Ironheart↩
4 Pirkei Avos (Ethics of the Fathers) 5:19, in R. Frand's article above↩