In an extract from his latest book, Rabbi Tony Bayfield, head of Reform Judaism, explores the true meaning of Shavuot.
Shavuot begins with the wheat harvest, becomes the giving of Torah at Sinai, and affirms the possibility of human encounter with the Divine.
The Hebrew word means ‘weeks’, the festival falling seven weeks after Pesach. Shavuot marks the point where the journey out of Egypt ceases to be liberation from, and becomes freedom to, a journey with direction and purpose. Once the Canaanite wheat harvest, Shavuot re-enacts the encounter between the Children of Israel and God.
Nothing can or should detract from that encounter as the foundational episode in the narrative of the Jewish people and of Judaism. It is both what the Jewish people left Egypt for and what provides inexhaustible fuel for the demanding and exhausting journey we’re still on.
Yet even Sinai was ‘only’ a staging post. The Torah continues the journey, telling us that the symbolic fruits of the brief encounter – the two tablets of stone – were placed in the Ark of the Covenant and carried forward with the people. We don’t stay where we are; we take what we can of Sinai with us.
Being Jewish Today: Confronting the Real Issues by Rabbi Tony Bayfield is published by Bloomsbury Continuum and available in paperback now.