I must tell you, this Shavuot will be one of the most memorable haggim (holidays) that I have ever celebrated. Not only was I consistent with my Omer counting (I wasn’t perfect but I kept on it), but I had the ability to stay up all through the night and into the next day learning, praying and singing with the Jewish community of Los Angeles on Tuesday-Wednesday. And just as LA Jewish life is…it was dyanimc, diverse and ranged from ultra progressive to uber Orthodox. Yes, you read that correctly.
Since Yosef had to stay home with the kid, I made arrangements with friends so that the entire night was covered. It was an incredible blessing of a gift to learn so much Torah the other night, that I thought the best way to fully embrace it was to share some of the things that I learned the other night.
Ikar: Rabbi Artson
Rabbi Artson shared a piece of Rabbinic literature (Talmud Akkot 24a-b) about how many mitzvot there are.
Interesting fact: 613 is kind of a made up number, and no one has the same list of what they would be. (Rabbi Simlai is the originator of this number and said that 365 prohibitions corresponding to the days of the sun, and 248 positive commandments corresponding to the body). Beautiful connection R’ Artson made here is that our tradition views the body as a beautiful and wonderful thing, and we should be proud to have them, and strive to take best care of them.
Yet the text weaves together lines from King David and prophets Isaiah, Micah, Amos and Habakkuk – each suggesting that there are only a few really mitzvot that God asks of us (things like righteousness, feeding the hungry, being honest, love mercy…).
He had us each consider with the essential elements of Judaism are for each of us, and even make our list of how many. Interesting thought.
Ikar: Rabbi Brous
There where many people I was able to learn from at Ikar’s celebration, but I’m just going to give you my highlights. R’ Brous spoke on the question of : Why are Religious People Often Such Jerks? -or as she called the shiur – Do the right thing. She provided us a packet of sources that look at the idea of living Torah and for God as a way of making peace. That the reason we fulfill mitzvot or practice ritual is so that we can spread peace in the world. The reason we are asked to love the other (more than any other commandment = this one is mentioned 36 times in Torah!!) in order that we are seen as peace makers and doers of justice in the world.
She asks the question of how it can be possible to be a religious person and carry out hate in the world (she gave examples of all different religious groups, including our own). I was able to make a comment at the end of her shiur about the importance of teaching our children WHY we do ritual and not just HOW. That when our priorities are about spreading peace in the world, our children see that. Unfortunately there are communities where that is not their focus. We can totally do better (with our children AND with ourselves).
Pico Shul: Rabbi Z
It was a trip to be in the Modern Orthodox world for a while. Black hats, wigs, super modest dress – yet a buzz of excitement and joy filled the nicely filled prayer space. Cosmic, kabblistic and Hebrew text art was displayed and cheese cake was passed around for all (even the homeless, drunk tzitzit wearing man enjoyed…) The rabbi spoke about why would the parsha where we are given the 10 commandments be named after a convert? (Yitro, Moses father in law) – because we should all live as though we’ve chosen Judaism. That the one who chooses to be a Jew, not just lives as one by default of existing, is what God wants of us. We engage with our Judaism and relationship to Hashem when we SEEK God regularly, like one who chooses to convert does when they find Judaism. He said: If you just do the motions without the emotions, you’ve missed the point.
It was a moving presentation.
Beth Am: Rabbi Ari Lucus
Last sharing for this post for now – because its late and its already long, but basically – the handwritten Torah has scribal markers that suggest something other than what is written. Hundred of words have letters in them written extra large or extra small – and we explored why these particular words may be written as such. A fascinating view into the underword of Torah!
It was certainly a blessing to have been a guest in these communities! I hope you’ve been inspired some how here too.