The Shavuot holiday is traditionally a day that we celebrate with a dairy meal. Cheesecake, fettuccine alfredo, penne alla vodka, ice cream; they all become traditional holiday foods on Shavuot. Definitely a holiday celebration you want to be a part of.
One of the reasons given for all the dairy delights is because when the Torah was given to us, so were the laws of kosher and the Jews were unable to prepare kosher meat that day. So, they ate dairy. So, we eat dairy as well.
The Torah was given to us 3,335 years ago on Shavuot. And we have celebrated every year since. It seems odd to celebrate the acquiring of a rule book. It would seem all we have got is restrictions in all areas of our lives. What we eat, how we dress, how we celebrate, how we build a family and so on. Hardly a reason to celebrate.
A rabbi from Oklahoma recently told me of advice he received many years ago from a wise rabbi in Brooklyn. “You should have so much happiness in your Judaism that all who see your joy will want to experience the same.” This was so important then, and even more important now. If the Torah and mitzvot are only felt as restrictions and rules, then our observance will become mechanical and fade away. And if not ours, then G-d forbid, our children’s. Who would want to live a heavily restricted life?
Rebbe would say, “Which is the right path for man to choose for himself? Whatever is harmonious for the one who does it, and harmonious for mankind.” (Ethics of our Fathers 2:1) This sounds more like a playbook than a rulebook. Rebbe was teaching us how to view the Torah. It is meant to bring us joy and harmony, and to all those around us.
Imagine a family that makes everyone turn off their phones and sit by a table for two hours straight, every single week! Sounds intense.
Imagine a family that gathers at least once a week, leaves all electronic distractions aside, sits by a table and enjoys each other's company for a delicious Shabbat dinner (and matzah ball soup, of course). That sounds like an opportunity for connection and love! Imagine sharing that with others!
We have options in our choice. We can see the annoyance and disruption in following the Torah, or we can see the beauty and wisdom it contains. When we see it through that lens, does it matter what it is telling us to do? We welcome it all because we are satisfied that the Torah will enhance our lives, the lives of our families and the community around us. If we are ambassadors of the joy of Judaism, then all who see would want to experience that as well.
So, the Jews were given the laws of kosher. Imagine keeping kosher in the desert. Ok, in the desert of Arizona we don’t need to imagine much. But 3,335 years ago, those rules would change all they knew about food. Separation of milk and meat, kosher meat, salting and all the many laws that became part of Jewish life. That can be a heavy load.
Or, that can be a chance to make a new kind of holiday. A cheesecake holiday. A holiday that we will forever commemorate the joy the Jews had to receive the Torah, that they happily ate dairy till they could sort things out. So, we eat dairy. Lots and lots of dairy. Not the 3,335-year-old type but delicious dishes that we all enjoy today. So, when the Torah gives you lemons, make lemon cheesecake!
This year Shavuot will be on May 26 and 27. Make sure you and your family go to shul to hear the reading of the Ten Commandments, so that we can once again experience the joy of the Torah for the 3,335th time. JN
Rabbi Dovber Dechter is the co-director of Chabad of Downtown Phoenix.