Sunday, June 8, 2008

A Happy Shavuot

Tonight at sunset starts the Jewish holiday of Shavuot, or the feast of weeks. For forty nine days, starting from the second night of Passover, Jews count the Omer. At the beginning of the counting, an offering of barley is brought in the Temple. On the fiftieth day, an offering of wheat is brought. Barley is considered a food for animals, and wheat is meant for human consumption. This is interpreted as symbolising a process of spiritual refinement, in which those counting the omer refine themselves into a more spiritual mode of functioning, achieving the purpose of human existence by rising above the animalistic level.
What is also significant is the placement of Shavuot after Passover. A holiday of physical liberation was a preparation for spiritual birth and more importantly, a path of service to G-d. The emphasis during the counting of the omer is on refining one's own personality and behavior. In a sense, one is not only being freed to serve G-d but also to refine one's self.
Liberation struggles in the modern call to mind this recurring theme. The former Soviet Union has in recent times thrown off the shackles of communism. South Africa has likewise done away with apartheid, the institutionalised racial segregation that had existed in that country.
In both revolutions, we find that freedom was itself a greater challenge than achieving political liberation. In South Africa there has been crime wave and fraying of social bonds borne of a deep impatience. Just as the restrictive yoke of grammar permits a wider expressive range, so to do societal restrictions permit greater individual and collective achievement. In the case of South Africa , the inner struggles of those newly freed has proven to be at least as turbulent as the struggle against apartheid.
The former Soviet Union has undergone a similar period of turbulence. A considerable number of former Soviet subjects even echoed the complaints of those who complained to Moses that he had brought them out of Egypt to starve in the desert. One need not be caught up in a political upheaval to be aware of this distinction between the inner and the outer battle fronts. Those who have struggled to overcome poverty find that wealth has its own challenges. Every victory brings with it a new struggle
The ten commandments that were given on Shavuot are an eternal bond between G-d and the Jewish people . The lesson of the link between external struggle and internal struggle is also an eternal legacy, not only to the Jewish people but to the world.

P.S. The next posting will be on Tuesday night, 10. June because of the Shavuot holiday Sphere: Related Content

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