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Congregation Beth Israel

Bangor Maine

Made in Tel Aviv, Israel by Virtuti-D
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Rabbi Siemers – June 2017

Dear Friends,

Shavuot is the festival without props, there is no matzah and no temporary buildings, so we need sometimes to work a little harder not to neglect it.  Hope to see many of you at services!  Alternatively, if things go according to the Yiddish saying, man tracht un Gott lacht, just treat this as an early installment of my pitch for Shavuot services 2018.

Because the rabbis identified Shavuot as the time of Matan Torah – the giving of the Torah – the holiday is often used as an occasion to indulge in well-known typologies about the American Jewish movements.  It goes along the lines of “Orthodox Jews believe that God (G-d if you prefer) gave the Torah word-for-word to Moses.  Reform Jews believe it was written by people.  Conservative Jews believe, well it’s very hard to describe but if you have a few hours I think you will agree it is a thoughtful and beautiful tapestry . . .”.  (Remember the words of R. Yitz Greenberg: “I don’t care which movement of Judaism you affiliate with as long as you are ashamed of your choice.”)   Unlike Israel, where the agricultural component of the festival gives the holiday an earthy, national tone, in America “religious” tropes tend to dominate and the moment is unfortunately often seized to discuss what separates us.

We would do better to argue less about the nature of Torah and speak more about how we are going to live it.  The Torah itself is kind of slippery about where it comes from, and in any event it is not a collection of beliefs to cherish but a program for us to live and implement in the world.  We do have a rich past, but that is not where we live.  There is a chassidic saying that while the giving of Torah at Sinai was a indeed a great day, it does not even rival in greatness the day that Torah was received – the moment when each Jew decides to live Torah.  Wherever Torah comes from it is here, and the only argument that matters is what we will do to realize it.  Please join us in making Shavuot this year a day of dedication to our mission of revealing Torah to the world.

Rabbi Siemers