The Jewish calendar offers us so many opportunities to carve out some time and make it special; however, too all often I find myself acknowledging the occasions but failing to invest them fully with what they offer.
On Shavuot, it is tradition to read the Book of Ruth. Not a long story (only 4 chapters), it is read because it speaks of the wheat harvest, and is related to the personal acceptance of Jewish living, connected to the national acceptance of Torah at Mt. Sinai, an event commemorated on the sixth of Sivan, the holiday of Shavuot.
The hero of the story, Boaz, wishes to comfort Ruth, who has lost her husband and left her people in Moav to follow and support her mother-in-law, Naomi. He offers her to partake of some food:
And Boaz said to her at mealtime, come close and eat from the bread and dip your bread into vinegar and she sat aside from the reapers and he gave her some toasted grain and she ate and was full and had leftovers from her meal. (Chapter 2, Verse 14)
Rabbi Yitzchak son of Merion taught: … If Boaz would have known it would be recorded (in the Bible) that he gave Ruth some toasted grain, he would have run to prepare a lavish feast with roasted meat. (Midrash Ruth Rabbah, Parashah 5)
What Rabbi Yitzchak’s point here? Does he mean to suggest that Boaz was stingy? I don’t think so. I suggest that Rabbi Yitzchak is speaking to human nature. He is reminding us that all too often significant opportunities pass without us making the most of them, and that if we would stop and think about how we would want the moment to be remembered, we would invest much more of ourselves into the occasion.
Shavuot has become the holiday associated with Torah study. Many Jews worldwide stay up at night to learn as the focus of their celebration. The learning is of course commendable, but taking out a few moments to consider the significance of learning is something sorely missing from the practice. While studying in the Florence Melton School is part of a personal journey of adult Jewish learning, it seems to me that it is a lot more than that.
Consider what it means that in our contemporary world, with all of the demands upon our time and attention, there are nonetheless adults worldwide dedicating collectively thousands of hours to Jewish learning each week. What does that say about our generation? What does it say about the times in which we are living? As we celebrate Shavuot, it is worth stopping to think about what a powerful statement we are making in the year 2014 when we set aside time weekly for Jewish learning.
Also, let us consider that Jewish adult learning is not only about satisfying our hunger for a number of lessons, with “texts of toasted grain,” rather, it is about spreading before ourselves a lavish feast of which we will continue to partake for the rest our lives.
Rabbi Morey Schwartz, Florence Melton School Director of Education