Paula Jacobs

Climbing the mountain to Shavuot

As I write these words, it is June 6th, the 80th anniversary of the D-Day Landing in Normandy. I’ve just listened to President Biden’s inspiring words about the ideals that American GIs fought for during World War II and the critical, urgent importance these days of saving democracy around the world.

My thoughts immediately turned to Shavuot and to my father of blessed memory. He landed on D-Day with the American troops on Utah Beach in Normandy, and died suddenly 25 years ago, just a few days before Shavuot. While he served in a field artillery unit on the European Front, my father was not a man of war but a teacher: His entire life he dedicated himself to teaching Torah to Jewish youth and American history to public high school students in Boston.

A first-generation American Jew – whose parents had fled Russia for America at the turn of the 20th century – my dad heard and understood the call to serve the country which had welcomed his parents and grandparents. As someone who studied, taught, and lived by the words of Torah, he must have thought of the words, “All that the Lord has spoken, we shall faithfully do,” (Na’aseh v’Nishmah) spoken by the Israelites upon receiving the Torah at Sinai (Exodus 24:7). As a student and teacher of American history, he understood what was at stake for freedom. And as a Jew, he understood clearly the threat of the vicious antisemitism propagated by Hitler.

Today, when our fragile democracy is on the line, I think about the Greatest Generation and their selfless commitment to the values of freedom and democracy. As we begin the Hebrew month of Sivan and prepare to commemorate Matan Torah (receiving the Torah) at Sinai, I also reflect on the spiritual qualities needed in today’s fragmented world where inflammatory language, vitriol, and hatred have spread like wildfire on college campuses, throughout social media, and even in our once-sacred American institutions.

It’s the seventh week of the Omer, the spiritual journey from the second night of Passover to Shavuot.  According to the kabbalists, this week signifies the sefirah or divine emanation of Malchut representing God’s dignity, majesty, and presence in the world.  Week seven also embodies each of the middot or qualities of the previous six weeks such as loving-kindness and compassion reflecting the Divine image.

So on this monumental anniversary, as we soon conclude counting of the Omer and prepare for Shavuot, I hope that we can pay homage to those brave men and women who defended democracy during World War II.  That means taking seriously the values of Torah and embracing the spiritual qualities of the Divine by performing concrete actions.  Whether it’s welcoming new mourners at minyan, visiting the home bound, or preparing a meal for the ill, each of us can do our part. In any case, you don’t need to climb the mountain to find Torah.

About the Author
Paula Jacobs is a Boston area writer. She has published in a variety of digital and print publications including Tablet Magazine, the Forward, and The Jerusalem Post.