Shavuot is, in some ways, the forgotten Jewish Holiday. Shavuot translates as “weeks,” and it falls exactly 7 weeks after Passover each year. It marks the celebration of receiving the Torah at Mt. Sinai, seven weeks after the Passover Exodus from Egypt.
The events described in the Bible are not only a description of a physical journey that may have happened thousands of years ago. It is also a description of a spiritual journey that each of us must undergo, sometimes many times in a lifetime. It begins in Egypt, which in Hebrew is called Mitzrayim. The word comes from the Hebrew root, tzarar which means constricted, narrow, and penned in. The name “Mitzrayim” literally means “the narrow place.”
In our lives, we have all been in a spiritually constricted place. We have had times that we felt penned in, that we are so constricted that it is hard to breath. We feel trapped, like we are in a state of spiritual bondage. You may even be in such a state now. It is characterized by a feeling that you are not free to guide your own destiny, and that force is larger than you are binding you in place.
This is followed by a shift. An Exodus. The truth is that there is always a spiritual path out of “the narrow place.” It often comes with an “out of the frying pan, into the fire” sense that things are getting even more difficult. Imagine the Israelites between Pharaoh’s chariots and the Sea of Reeds. The difficult times do not go away by running away from them, but by eventually confronting what we fear to face. Yet it is often when things seem most hopeless that God provides a path. It is not always obvious; it is said that the Sea did not split until the faithful Israelites began walking into the waters together. That is the symbolic power of faith.
After passing through the waters, it is like a rebirth. There is a sense of renewed possibility. The world seems wide before you. You can breathe again. Some people make the mistake of believing that the journey is over, but it is only beginning. It is by marching bravely into the wilderness that we can reach enlightenment – receiving the Torah. It is in this state of spiritual renewal that we are able to hear the voice of God guiding us from the mountaintop.
That is Sinai. That is Shavuot. It is celebrating this incredible body of wisdom that we inherited from our parents and grandparents. It is not just the books of Moses. It includes the little life lessons that help us make sense of life. It is the voice of God guiding us through the wilderness. Celebrate this Shavuot by sharing your story and wisdom with others, because we only make it across the sea by “joining hands, marching together.”