Posts Tagged ‘Rami shapiro’

Ahhh, it’s that time of year again; time for me to struggle with that oh-so rabbinic of holidays, Shavuot.

I love the original Shavous — a holiday celebrating the first fruits and vegetables to appear in the season, and a reason to travel long distances to share one’s bounty with neighbors and priests. That’s what the holiday was all about in the Torah. It was a spring harvest holiday, the yin-yang twin of the other harvest holiday that takes place in the fall: Sukkot. On this day, the Torah tells us, people would pack up the First Fruits of their harvest and make the long pedestrian trek to Jerusalem.

Take a moment and picture what a rag-tag scene that must have been. Donkeys and babies. Food and water canteens made, I am imagining, from the bladders of animals.

Then the stodgy halachists of the rabbinic era (c 300 CE) got ahold of Shavuot. Now the holiday has become burdened with the (much later) story that Shavuot was the day that Moses received the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai. It’s a nice story, a nice myth. The problem is that so many generations of Jews have turned this myth into “history.”

When a story like this becomes “history,” the inevitable question becomes who has the right (and power and authority) to interpret these Mosaic laws “given by God.” The rabbis of the rabbinic era made the holiday about the passing of law (and their right to interpret it) rather than the passing of rains and seasons. An entire system spanning 2,000 years of Jewish history has been built on the idea of rabbis declaring human laws as “coming from God.”

It’s not any different than the power-grab done by every other major world religion (and probably every minor religion too.) But as a post-Enlightenment human being blessed to live in a relatively free world, I’d love for my religion and my people to just speak honestly about why things are the way they are.

I wish to keep my myths restricted to the reading of JRR Tolkien. And the holodec on Star Trek.

Sigh. I could use a little Rabbi Rami Shapiro at a time like this, and indeed, a quick google search led me to one. Rabbi Shapiro can always be counted on for breathing fresh air, insight, spirit, and soul into every last creaky nook of our tradition. And on the topic of Shavuot, he does not disappoint. Here is a prayer R. Shapiro offers as an alternative aleiynu, for a Friday night Shavuot service. (The aleiynu is a standard prayer that appears in different versions throughout Jewish liturgy.)

I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!

It is up to us to hallow Creation, to respond to Life with the fullness of our lives. It is up to us to meet the World, to embrace the Whole even as we wrestle with its parts. It is up to us to repair the World and to bind our lives to Truth.

Therefore we bend the knee and shake off the stiffness that keeps us from the subtle graces of Life and the supple gestures of Love. With reverence and thanksgiving we accept our destiny and set for ourselves the task of redemption.

— Rami Shapiro

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According to Lev. 23:15, Jews are obligated to count the days from Passover to Shavu’ot. This period is known as Counting the Omer. In the days of the Temple, an ‘omer’ of barley was cut down and brought to the priests as an offering. The grain offering was called an ‘omer’ — thus the name of this period.

What does it mean to count the Omer in this day and age? I confess, it’s a question I wrestle with every spring. When I first began attempting to count the Omer a few years ago, I had a lot of fun with the tradition simply because it was something new. It gave me a chance to learn a new Hebrew blessing, and it was a vehicle for better learning the Hebrew numbering system! (To see a transliteration of each day’s Omer recitation, check out this handy site on the OU.)

Once the newness wore off though, I was back wondering what it all means. What can I walk away with from this exercise?

The “traditional” answer to this question is that the counting is intended to remind us of the link between Passover, which commemorates the Exodus, and Shavu’ot, which commemorates the giving of the Torah. It is supposed to remind us that the redemption from slavery was not complete until we received the Torah. But, as someone who cannot accept this “traditional” meaning of the holiday of Shavuot (and I say “traditional” in quotes because the oldest meaning of the holiday of Shavu’ot was as an agricultural pilgrimage festival — not the day Moses received the Torah on Mt. Sinai), this explanation for the Omer isn’t particularly meaningful.

What I have found meaningful instead, however, is using the Omer as an opportunity for inner reflection. A variety of writers have come out in recent years offering interpretations of the kabbalistic (mystical) interpretation of the Omer.

In kabbalah, each week of the Omer we move through one of the seven lower sefirot (emanations of God that are associated with a particular divine quality.) So, for example, we would focus the first week on the sephira of chesed (lovingkindness). Week two would be the sephira of gevurah (strength). This blog post by the New York Jewish Culture Examiner offers a helpful guide. The question becomes, in what ways do we experience or manifest the holy qualities of lovingkindness or strength in our day-to-day life? In what ways can we strive to experience or embody these manifestations of holiness?

One book on this topic is Counting the Omer, a Kabbalistic Meditation Guide by Min Kantrowitz.

Another beautiful practice you might consider adopting is to finish your daily Omer recitation by singing Ana B’Koach. On neohasid.org, you can find several recordings of this traditional and haunting melody.


Addendum: In response to Ahuvah’s recommendation of Rabbi Rami Shapiro’s counting the Omer book, I went on an online hunt in search of it. I couldn’t find it for purchase anywhere, but it is available as a free PDF download from his website here: http://web.mac.com/rabbirami/Rabbi_Rami/Read_files/Omer%20Journal.pdf

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