holiday of weeks

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my cat, Nechama, looking back

In the early spring, when the first flowers are blooming, and the cold of winter begins its retreat, we remember our exodus from slavery. We ask ourselves what freedom is. We study the process of leaving slavery, and becoming free men and women. We sit like kings around the banquet table, and give presents to our young, and invite the homeless to sit and eat with us. We lean back on pillows. We go off on vacation. We spend a week in travels and luxury, and spend time with our families. We eat unleavened bread, to remind ourselves, that when you’re starting off as a people, there’s no culture. Bread is just flour and water… and made in 18 minutes… and then you’re off.

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and then you’re off ~ (this is a sign that marks a bicycle lane in Jerusalem. The lion of Judah is our symbol of Jerusalem… and I like seeing him ride a bike)

And now seven weeks have passed, and we’ve arrived at the holiday of Pentecost. That time, when we remember the giving of the law. This is the giving of the law, and not the acceptance of the law. Because it was given, and now it’s up to each of us to accept it or not accept it. And each in his own time. Each when he is ready. Some don’t want it, and will never get it.

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It wasn’t decided in assemblies or in parliament. It’s not democratic. And it’s not ours to add to it, or to detract from it, though that has happened in very rare and isolated cases through the years. We are not promised heaven. We are not promised peace. We’re not even promised reason. It starts with the ten commandments, and then it goes on and on. 613 rules of life. The intricacies of our life are determined by these laws, and by the way our rabbis and our teachers understand them. It applies only to us, and not necessarily to others.

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sheep and goats grazing on the field

At night, we sit up all night and study the law. The festivities are not so great. We don’t usually eat meat. We know there are many rules to the eating of meat… and we’re not ready yet, We eat bread and vegetables and fruit, and fish, if we want. It is customary to eat a lot of milk products. Usually we eat cheese cake. The men haven’t been cutting the hair of their heads and beards for the last seven weeks. Now is the time to cut it. Now is the time to bring order to our lives. The holiday is only one day. In the diaspora it’s two. This is not a time for big vacations. This is not a time for great celebrations. But we drink wine to begin the holiday, and we sanctify the day with a blessing over the wine. Now is the time of the conclusion of the grain harvest. It is also a time of bringing forth the first fruits.

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It is on this holiday, that we read the book of Ruth. It is the story of a non Jewish woman, who converted to Judaism, and accepted the law that we live by. She eventually became the grandmother of King David, our most beloved king. And her life story is seen as an allegory of our own experience.

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The spring seems short, and now we are moving towards the summer. Freedom itself is very intoxicating. But now we will study the rules and values we have accepted, to give life taste, and harmony, and to help us live meaningful lives.

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38 responses to “holiday of weeks

  1. J. Randall Stewart

    It is interesting, how freedom can be found in the submission to God’s law. If find this paradigm so facinating, and outside so many people’s ability to understand and accept. But I do accept it. Who know’s better than God how we should live, since He created life, with all it’s beauty and intimate detail.

    I appreciate your statement about the law being given, and how we must choose to accept it. I love that most about God. He does not force Himself upon us (though He could). He is mighty and all-powerful, yet He deals with us so gentlly at times. He offers the greatest gift in the universe in such a plain package. Most people overlook it, not realizing the great gift that it is. Many prefer to concoct their own rules, to make up a law that suits them best. But it is a useless law that does not gain them anything good, certainly not heaven. This kind of law, man-made law, is only a prison. But God’s law is good, and we delight in it.

    There is only one objection I would make to all you have written. I believe we are promised heaven. I know in my heart the certainty I have in God, that His love will carry me beyond this life to His bosom. I think God has promised that for those who love Him, who follow His commands and honor Him in this life. I heard it said once that those who acknowledge God before men on earth will be acknowledged by God before men in heaven. I believe it.

    J a s o n

    • Hi there Jason, and thanks for dropping by. As to your objection… that is what we expect whenever there is a meeting of people of different faiths, isn’t it? I was speaking of the Jewish world view, and you’re a Christian. If and when we get to heaven, you can slap me on the shoulder, and say ‘I told you so’. I’m sure I’ll smile.

      • J. Randall Stewart

        Thanks so much. I don’t doubt we’ll be there together, despite our differences of belief.

        I appreciate your sense of humor. I had a good laugh at your comment. God has blessed us with the ability to laugh, and to find joy in life. Of that I am also certain.

        God bless you on your journey of faith.

        J a s o n

  2. Beautiful! Of course, I know the stories of Exodus and Ruth from past Sunday school lessons, but this brings it alive and relevant in a new way. I suppose the reason for most religious celebrations is to make us more thoughtful of what a precious gift this life is. As always, beautiful photographs. I almost feel like Nechama is an old friend!

    • So glad you liked it, Jordan. And yes, I was thinking on the holiday, how we mark time by the moon, and the holidays… but Nechama knows so well that the summer is coming, and has already put on her summer coat, and is light and easy on her feet in celebration of the change of seasons. Thanks.

  3. I love and am so grateful for the way you bring Judaism alive and fill it with meaning, Shimon; thank you so much for this and for your beautiful photography…gentle peace and joy as you ponder freedom, rules, and harmony…

    • Thank you very much, Catherine. What a pleasure it is to share with friends like yourself, who value much the same things in life. Best wishes for a very beautiful summer.

  4. Your cat is one fine alert meow,loved the ever alertness in the picture.
    its always so enriching to read about other cultures,they never leave you empty handed. instead like this one makes you richer.
    Loved that sign mark for bicycle lane,its beautiful

    “We eat unleavened bread, to remind ourselves, that when you’re starting off as a people, there’s no culture. Bread is just flour and water… and made in 18 minutes”……Beautiful write up

    • Yes, it is a pleasure watching all living things respond to the changing of the seasons. Nechama is already wearing a lighter coat, in honor of the summer. Maybe we need more ceremony because we think so much… Thank you for your comment, Soma. I agree, it’s a pleasure to get to know other cultures… and it makes me very grateful for the internet that has made it all easier.

  5. Thank you for sharing about the Holiday of Weeks. I enjoy knowing how you celebrate these times I’ve read about in the Bible. I love the story of Ruth (especially as I bear the same name) and appreciate your comment that, “her life story is seen as an allegory of our own experience.” The concept of a kinsman-redeemer amazes me.
    I also like your picture of the bicycle lane sign!

    • Yes, I love the story of Ruth too. It is very special in so many ways… among which, the great love between a woman and her mother-in-law. And that’s just at the beginning. And it is a beautiful name. Thank you for your comment, Ruth… and wishing you beautiful days ahead.

  6. i like the open-ended discussion that does not automatically combine accepting something with that something being given to you.

    • We agree, Rich. I have often thought that the most noble attribute of man, is his free choice. We can even choose not to accept a gift (smile). Thank you for your comment.

  7. What a lovely post, Shimon … again and again your writing falls deep into my heart, and it feels so much like coming home that it moves me to tears … I’m 57 years old, and I’m trying hard to believe … but it is like it is not meant to be … not for me … because I cannot and will not forget and forgive, when it comes to what happenend to my grandmother and her sisters in WW II (see my blogpost : Maria) At the same time, I do feel that you and your writings are a blessing to me … my mumme knows about my struggle with faith … she says to me: ” Even if you’ll never grasp the concept of faith … God is with you … and will accept you into heaven at the end of your days.” What do you think? Love, cat.

    • I’ve seen your blogpost, Maria… and can understand your feelings about that. I believe matters of faith can’t be forced. Even if I don’t believe there are microscopic organisms in the water, will that affect what they’ll do? And if I don’t believe that a little acorn will someday be a great tree, does that tree not grow? We believe what we’re ready to believe, and not everything we’re told is worth believing. But as we grow older, we learn more and more, and don’t usually revile our self that knew less than we know now. Enjoy your life, cat… for that is the greatest gift of all. With best wishes.

  8. Great read, Shimon! It is interesting to know more of Judaism and your practices. 😉

  9. A very interesting post Shimon. I think that our society now is very much the poorer for it’s secularity. We are now missing these ‘laws’. Although not a religious man, I remember the lessons learned, the rules absorbed through hearing stories from the bible during religious assemblies at school that sadly no longer happen. We’re multi-cultural and we mustn’t ‘offend’ anybody by continuing to teach christian values embodied in the Church of England, the lessons and laws, the moral values that used to make such a huge contribution toward ensuring a decent, ordered society. You didn’t have to believe to repect the laws, to learn ‘to do unto others as you would have them do to you’ for example but that is all gone now. Secularism leaves a moral vacuum in my opinion.
    Your pictures are lovely Shimon, I especially like the bowl of fruit, it looks so fresh and sharp I feel I could almost reach into my monitor and select a pear. Very nice.

    • I think we swing back and forth, like a pendulum, between law and order and freedom. When we’ve gone too far in one direction, we find ourselves going the other way… and then, very often go too far in that direction. At this point, the accent seems to be on the individual, and the greatest freedoms possible. But I imagine it won’t take too long, before the pendulum swings in the other direction again. But your example, of doing onto others as we would have them do to us, is a timeless truth. I do hope it won’t be forgotten. Thank you for your kind words, Chillbrook.

  10. I don’t know much about the Jewish faith, but one of the things I respect the most is the respect from tradition and what it means today. Looking back/reflection at where one has been is powerful, and something that everyone should do more about various aspects of life – and applicable to all faiths. Thanks for your guiding words … and gray cats are have such a soft look … cheers and blessings to Nechama.

    • Yes, I have a real sweetheart of a cat, and she seems to take a great interest in Jewish holidays… especially the food. We ate a number of varieties of cheese, including blintzes and cheese cake… and she was right there with me, all the way, doing her part in the celebration. I agree with you, Frank. As much as we encourage ‘living in the moment’, there is something about tradition that adds a very meaningful perspective to our lives. Thanks for your comment.

  11. Very interesting. I like learning from you. Though our beliefs may differ our God does not. Other than the Ten Commandments I know little about the law but I do know without laws there is no freedom.

    Like the bike lane sign and, of course, love the picture of Nechama.

    • That one line of yours, Patricia, puts it all in a nutshell. “without laws there is no freedom”. And I agree that different peoples need somewhat different laws, at times. But the essence is universal. Glad you liked the two cats; the one on the bike, and the one that accompanies me….

  12. Lovely picture of Nechama, and along the lines of what Chillbrook says, the fruits in the bowl are so enticing; begging to be eaten. It’s interesting to read how you ‘travel’ from season, to season. Wishing you a lovely weekend.

    • Thank you, Marina… it is always a pleasure to share the things I like, whether it be our traditions, or a bowl of fruit. Thanks for your kind words for my cat. It’s been a great holiday… and now it’s back to work.

  13. “But now we will study the rules and values we have accepted, to give life taste, and harmony, and to help us live meaningful lives.” I suppose I simply do not understand the concept. I never thought about it. I live by a fairly rigid set of general rules.

    I have no experience with laws that govern the details of how to live a meaningful life. I am very interested in discovering the 613 rules. My only experience is with the Ten Commandments. They are very general and easily ignored by a great many who profess to live by them. Most people accept them as suggestions.

    As usual, this is a dispassionate and articulate recounting of the meaning of another Jewish observance. I too like the lion of Judah riding a bike.

    Thank you, Shimon, for lovely the photographs and the clarity of your voice as you speak for your people.

    Have a wonderful holiday observance.

    • You raise an interesting dilemma, when you speak of most people who look at the rules as suggestions. I suppose that might be true about the ten commandments in certain societies, but I believe that even in those societies, there are other rules, which no one would dare cross. I’ve heard that in the Mafia, and in the underworld, there are rules too, and to cross them would put your life in danger. So when changing from one set of rules to another, one has to be careful. All the more so, because sometimes there are ‘unwritten rules’. I wouldn’t say that the rules of our tradition are the only way to live a meaningful life. I was just speaking of us, as a people. But I do believe that in every society, people find meaning within a framework. And there are areas, beyond the need to have a license in order to drive a car, or the need to pay taxes. Some people may add yoga to their day, and others may volunteer to help the disabled… and in almost every life, as we live it… one finds a framework that pulls all the beliefs and activities together.

      Thank you very much, George, for your kind words and your comment.

  14. Thank you for sharing. This is very interesting and informative. I was just too glad to find out my boss wasn’t going to be at work tomorrow due to the Jewish holiday that I didn’t even wonder what the day was for so I am very glad I got to read your blog and have more insight into this day.

    • How nice that this post gave you a better understanding of your boss’s tradition, and the reason he wasn’t going to be at work. It is always good to understand the backgrounds of those we come in contact with.

  15. There was a gentlesness to your words today, or maybe that is me? But what struck me is the “It applies only to us, and not necessarily to others.” it makes it truly personal.
    Oh, and I adored the cycle lane motif, life looks richer and more fun with the Lion of Judah as an emblem.

    • I don’t know, Claire, sometimes I worry, when telling about our culture and tradition, that others might think I’m pushing my culture as being the best way. And really, I have great respect for other cultures… and love music, so I know that the piano and the trombone are each just as important, and the great beauty is when they are all playing together… and yes, I like to share the things I love, and not the things that aggravate me. So that lion on the bike is a good example.

  16. You have such a calm and quiet voice that is at once so rich and expressive, Shimon. I so appreciated your sharing this information and your perspective.

  17. WordsFallFromMyEyes

    ShimonZ, I love these pictures, so beautiful pure free. I LOVE your cat ‘looking back’, but all the rest of this blog… you are an interesting, thoughtful man.

    • I’m so glad you enjoyed this post, Noeleen. I think it really helps us gain a better perspective, to get to know people living different lives, and learn about what matters to them. Thank you for coming by.

  18. Pingback: writers’ block and the wailing wall | the human picture

  19. a wonderful rite: “…In the early spring, when the first flowers are blooming, and the cold of winter begins its retreat, we remember our exodus from slavery. We ask ourselves what freedom is. We study the process of leaving slavery, and becoming free men and women…”

    • I’m glad you enjoyed reading about this, Dietmar. Sometimes, we who live in free countries, take freedom for granted. It is good to stop for a moment, and study it.

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