Shavuot Without Labels

By David Waksberg, CEO Jewish LearningWorks

We tend to label ourselves and one another.  So-and-so is secular, and that guy is observant.  This one is Reform and she’s an environmentalist.  And so on.  There is no end to the labels and distinctions.

But when the Torah was given on Mount Sinai – an event commemorated on Shavuot and one at which, according to tradition, we were all present – there’s no record of labels.  We were all the children of Israel and the Torah was given to us all.

Receiving the Torah, as Vavi Toran writes in our blog , is a daily practice for many observant Jews.  Increasingly, others are getting into the act – understanding that Torah and Jewish learning are our birthright. 

Shavuot – zman matan haTorah - the Time of the Giving of the Torah - has emerged as a festival of Jewish learning.  Jews around the world gather to study together, recreating the experience Shavuot commemorates - the experience of the children of Israel at the foot of Mount Sinai.

Across Northern California, Jews will gather for Tikkuney leyl Shavuot – Shavuot study sessions, where all are welcome.  

My most powerful and meaningful learning has often happened in the wee hours of the night on Shavuot – when defenses are down and small groups of Jews – with different backgrounds (and no labels) sit and study together and grapple with our tradition and how it relates to our own lives.  If you’ve never participated in one, perhaps this is the year for you to begin and join with other Jews who will feel as if we ourselves are receiving the Torah for the first time at the foot of Mount Sinai.

Because today, no less than on that day, the Torah belongs to us all.