Sam Litvin

Shavuot is for Sinners

Hag Sameach. Today is Shavuot. Shavuot is an important day not only for Jews, but for the world. Today marks the day that according to the Torah, Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the tablets, the rules to live by. When Moses came down and he saw the Jewish people acting as people would if there was no government and no rules. They say he broke the tablets. He was angry. But the tablets were not a simple gift, they were given for precisely that reason, to help guid Jewish people to proper action. This is the second time in Torah where God is like a parent angry at man like a child before giving the man the tools to act better.

Without rules that guide us in how we act, we act in a narrow sighted short term self interest that can harm cooperation which harms what we can achieve in our life. A family without cooperation cannot stand, neither can a company, or a community or a state. When we cannot agree on a set of values, at least the value of following the rules that we create, then we cannot move forward. If someone creates rules that harm others but better themselves, it harms society. This is why the 10 commandments, or the 613 on the complete and uncut set, came from “God”.

This is fact is super important for the world and not just Jews. Before this moment,  rules were ephemeral, made by a king and tied to a king, and gone with the next king. Religions at that time had no rules. The gods of other nations at that time did not seek cooperation or good behavior from people towards others, they sought gifts for themselves and their priests. But the wisdom of Moses, as I like to think of it, is that he tied the rules not to himself, (he saw no one listened to him), not to Aaron (he assumed that there might come a time when no one listens to Aaron), but to an immortal God.

This was a major major innovation for humanity. This is what allowed for Christianity and for Islam to spread around the world and create a single system of values. Before this idea that God wanted you to not cheat or murder, the only people you didn’t kill or murder were those of other tribes, and often within your tribe a well.  But when the idea of being good towards others was married to religion and spread throughout the world, it meant a people could now assume that as long as a land abided by the laws of Moses if that person were wronged, that person could be held liable for the wrong doing.

These laws did not come to us because we are good, they were created because there is a selfish gene in all of us. There is also a gene in us that wants prosperity, that wants fairness, that wants justice. These rules bring out the best in us and they curb the worst in us. At this time, when selfish people ignore these rules, it is good to have a holiday to remind us of where these rules came from, and why.

May you all be healthy and safe in these troubling times. Chag Sameach.

About the Author
Sam Livin was born in Soviet Union and grew up in San Diego. In 2012, he travelled the world photographing Jewish communities publishing a book called "Your Story Our Sipur." Today he continues to write about Israel and Judaism as he lives and studies business and ecology in Tel Aviv.
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