The giving of Torah happened at one specific time, but the receiving of Torah happens all the time, in every generation.
—Rebbe Yitzchak Meir Alter (1799–1866)
In ancient times, of the three pilgrimage festivals, the harvest festival Sukkot was the major Jewish holiday of the year, called by the talmudic rabbis “Ha-hag,” “The holiday.” In the centuries after the destruction of the Second Temple that centrality shifted to Passover, perhaps because we were so often wandering homeless and that story evoked our deepest desires as a people. In this time of radical global changes, when all of life is in danger of extinction, I began to feel that repeating the “Us vs. Them” stories we tell at Passover holds us back from getting out of the wilderness and into a deep space of inner, outer, and shared openness to God, Goddess, Spirit, the Source. Suddenly one day this idea came to me – that it’s time for us to move beyond the Pesakh narrative and its stories of Repression and Redemption – to those of Shavuot and its stories of Revelation and Relationship – by celebrating Shavuot for an entire week, expanding our Tikkun Leil Shavout learning so that each day we explore another level of Torah, using the term “Torah” in the broadest sense.
Study sessions as I imagine them would all be on the theme of Revelation and Relationship, and may incorporate written texts as well as music and art, meditation and movement, from yoga and tai chi to dancing. During these sessions participants may also create stories, prayers, poems, songs, dances, and art that emerge from our studies. Gardening, flower arranging, cooking classes, hiking, and time at a mikveh can also be part of this weeklong celebration, allowing us to engage all of our senses in deeply embodied ways.
Below is an outline of what came to me in a burst of (perhaps) divine inspiration:
The 1st Day of Shavuot: organized around reading and studying texts and themes from the Tanakh that concern Divine Connection.
The 2nd Day of Shavuot: focus on texts and themes that come from the Talmud.
The 3rd Day of Shavuot: reading relevant stories and themes from Midrash.
The 4th Day of Shavuot: devoted to texts and themes from Jewish mysticism.
The 5th Day of Shavuot: feature texts and themes from our prayers, from our siddurim and other collections of liturgy.
The 6th Day of Shavuot: organized around non-canonical Jewish writings from ancient and medieval times until the beginning of the Enlightenment.
7th Day of Shavuot: organized around texts written by Jewish writers in the centuries since the Enlightenment, in all genres, secular and religious, from every Jewish community in the world, including novels, stories, poems, prayers, essays, films, etc.
In crafting new observances for an expanded Shavuot I’m inviting us to remember what was revealed at Sinai and that God, however we experience or define It, is revealing Itself to us in every moment. If we’re going to survive, we’re going to need to live in the world in whole new ways, and this is an invitation to use a weeklong holiday to meditate, pray, go inward and open ourselves to guidance from The Eternal, recalling the words that Moses says in Numbers 11:29:
Would that all The Eternal’s people were prophets,
that The Eternal put Its spirit upon them.
Join Elias on May 13th @ 12:00pm ET for "Revelation and Relationship: Receiving Torah in a Time of Global Change."
Elias Ramer was ordained a maggid in 2012. Under the name Andrew Ramer he's the author of four books of midrash – Queering the Text: Biblical, Medieval, and Modern Jewish Stories; Torah Told Different: Stories for a Pan/Poly/Post-Denominational Era; Deathless: The Complete, Uncensored, Heartbreaking, and Amazing Autobiography of Serach bat Asher, the Oldest Woman in the World; and Fragments of the Brooklyn Talmud. He lives in Oakland, California. For more information visit andrewramer.com.