Shavuot is a holiday of radical inclusivity and creativity. On Shavuot, each and every one of us is invited into the ongoing experience of receiving and transmitting Torah. Yet, despite this exciting proposition, Shavuot can be a holiday that is difficult to connect to. Unlike Chanukah or Shabbat, there are no home practices. Unlike Pesach or Tu b’Shevat, there is no ritual meal. Unlike Yom Kippur or Rosh Hashanah, there is no special communal worship. Shavuot does not focus on themes of rededication, liberation or personal salvation. Instead, it is a holiday of revelation, reception and innovation. Shavuot dares each of us to ask: What is Torah? What is Torah to me? How do I receive Torah anew?
There’s a story in the Talmud about a famous rabbi who declares that no student may enter the study hall whose inside does not match their outside - in Hebrew, who are not “tocho k’varo.”
What does this mean that their inside must match their outside? To me this sounds like this rabbi is asking for there to be no discrepancy between who these students know themselves to be and who they show themselves to be. This also sounds like it requires a Jewish space in which students feel safe enough to be bold enough to be fully who they are.
In our sacred texts, God is called by many names: Tzur (Rock), Shomer(Guardian), Rechem (Womb), Melech (King), Adonai (Lord), Magen (Shield) — all our limited approximations of God’s infinite being. In the Torah, we find a moment of intimate exchange between God and Moses in which Moses asks God how he should identify God to the people.
Nothing in our lives is meant to be static and unchanging. Parashat Shemini offers us clues for how we might best nurture a relationship with that which we love—be it God, another person, or ourselves: offer up gifts, make space for the mystery, allow for change.
How do we deal with wrongs committed against those whom we don’t know personally, whom we can’t - and should not - seek out for forgiveness, but whose suffering we’ve witnessed and and in some way contributed to either directly or indirectly through the strands that weave us together in this inescapable web of interconnection?