Tonight the holiday of Shavuot begins. This holiday has significance both agriculturally and spiritually. It marks the spring wheat harvest and in Israel it is often celebrated by offering the first spring agricultural gleanings. The spiritual celebration commemorates the Israelites receiving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai. There are many traditions associated with Shavuot including studying Torah all night long and eating a dairy meal.
When I think about the significance of Shavuot, I am reminded that in the Torah we are gifted with the tools to answer life’s most challenging questions. We are provided a lens through which we see the world, so that we act in ways that are right and just. We are also given the responsibility to uphold important tenets of Judaism with which we were entrusted. The one that comes to mind immediately is that we are all created in the image of God. Seeing everyone in this light creates innate purpose and beauty, in every human being. When we recognize that all people are created in the image of God, we cannot help but act with humility, deference and respect. In the image of God, we see each other’s humanity.
Yesterday I participated in a very emotional meeting of the Levine Center to End Hate’s steering committee. This diverse group of caring and courageous community members shared their anger, sadness, despair and outrage over horribly blatant racist incidents plaguing our nation and impacting our community every day. We know some of the stories and names because they are fresh in the news like George Floyd and Amaud Arbery. Men who have lost their lives because of the color of their skin. There are so many more stories that happen every day, that do not make the news. Racism is a scourge on our society and we must do something about it. The level of despair over the state of race in our country has reached another crescendo.
As a Jewish community, we know first-hand the result of hatred and bigotry. We must stand up to the disease of racism and help eliminate the structures that keep it firmly entrenched in our society. If we really do see the image of God in all people, there is simply no way to justify treating anyone differently because of the color of their skin, or any other difference one may have. We must set an example by living the virtues of the Torah, that we celebrate on Shavuot and all year long. It is our responsibility to speak up and speak out against racism. As Martin Luther King so eloquently said, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” We must not be silent. Each of us has the ability to make a difference.
As Shavuot rapidly approaches and we study the lessons of the Torah, let us commit personally and as a community, to do everything in our power not to let those who perpetuate racism and hate have a louder voice than those fighting against it. In the words of Elie Wiesel, “I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must take sides. neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” We must not be silent.
I wish you a meaningful Shavuot and a peaceful Shabbat.