On Monday morning, May 17, children around the world will begin a new week of school — either in person or virtually. But your child might have somewhere more important to be.
On this Monday morning, as school children will open their math books and notebooks, the Jewish people will commemorate and relive the giving of the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai. We will read it from the Torah in the very same words that we heard from on high, 3,333 years ago on this day.
True, many Synagogues will offer an after-school reading where children attending school that day will be able to participate. But that, as you’d know, is second best. If you live in a place where Synagogue attendance is now safely possible, I want to argue that your child should be there for the real thing.
After a full night of learning and preparation, the entire Jewish family – men, women, children, and even babies – will dress in their finest and together make their way to the Synagogue. Many communities will begin services in the early hours of the morning, replicating the very time of day in which we gathered at the foot of the mountain. For those fortunate enough to be there, the spectacle of the streaming thousands to the Western Wall in Jerusalem will, thank G-d, repeat itself this year; in a scene incredibly reminiscent of the ancient pilgrimage to the holy Temple on this very day.
Many synagogues will be adorned with flowers, and if you’re in the right spot, the sweet aroma of an awaiting dairy banquet will be wafting through the air. Shavuot is our wedding day. The day we stood in complete love, awe, and joy; the day we made our vows to G-d, and G-d made his vows to us.
As the service builds up to the Torah reading, many communities will recite one of the most magnificent and moving pieces of Jewish liturgical poetry ever written: Akdamut. The medieval poem speaks of fiery love, of unwavering commitment to Hashem, our G-d and the G-d of our fathers. Through thick and thin, through fire and water, we remained faithful to Him, and He to us. The day will yet come when His love will embrace us in all its splendor.
When the ark is opened a special, personal prayer is recited. You could take a moment and gaze at our holy, precious Torah on its special day…
As the Ten Commandments are read, you could take another moment and look around you. Here, in May of 2021, the descendants of those who physically stood at Sinai are here. They stand together just as their ancestors did at Sinai, gathered in commitment to carry and guard G-d’s sacred and eternal code. “Asher Bachar Banu Mikol Ha’amim”, G-d chose us from all the nations, and made us the guardians of His Torah. It is we who should indeed celebrate and read that sacred text each year. For the world, it is we who must ensure that these values and commands never die. If not us, who?
The Haftarah that follows the Torah reading is of the lofty and G-dly visions of the prophet Ezekiel. Musaf is then prayed, during which the Kohanim ascend the podium to perform the beautiful and moving ‘Priestly Blessing’. With their faces covered by the Tallit and their hands stretched out high, they will selflessly and emotionally once again recite that timeless blessing: Blessed are you Lord our G-d King of the Universe, who has sanctified us with the sanctity of Aaron and commanded us to bless His people of Israel with love”.
The service will end and Kiddush will be made. An ancient custom even called at this time for the wishing of ‘Mazal Tov’ – as if at a wedding. With the bright colors and aromas of delicious dairy foods, we will joyfully celebrate this festive day; the day that made us who we are and gave us everything we have.
Please don’t tell me you would trade this for Mrs. Bierly’s Monday morning math lesson.