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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.