In honor of what amounts to the Torah’s birthday on Shavuot, I’d like to take the opportunity to mention some upcoming and ongoing learning opportunities:
First, our ongoing “Nach” (Prophets and Writings) class meets Mondays at 4 pm. By the time you read this, we’ll be approaching the end of Joshua, the first book following the Torah in our Bible. This means you can join us just in time for Judges, which I like to describe as “the Wild West of the Bible.” The class offers the opportunity to encounter and engage with parts of our Bible that are not chanted in services and have become less familiar to recent generations. These parts of our tradition challenge us to think deeply about both what our sacred texts are trying to tell us, and which messages from our ancient traditions we choose to glean or winnow as moderns.
Second, as a complement to our exploration of less familiar parts of our Bible, I have also scheduled a brief examination of some of the key figures of our post-biblical tradition on three consecutive Thursday evenings in June (see the calendar). Primarily, we’ll learn about some of the Talmudic figures who laid the rubric for how we understand our Bible and how we experience our Judaism to this day, and, time-permitting, we’ll include some outstanding post-Talmudic figures who shaped the development of Judaism over the centuries toward our own time. While our Bible is the wellspring from which Judaism ultimately flows, the Talmud is the aqueduct that brings those waters into our lives in useful, functional form. And more recent sages are, I suppose, pipes and sink basins and shower heads and drains – it sounds a little less poetic, but hey, it’s just a metaphor. Seriously though, just as you won’t much deepen your understanding of Brexit by reading the Magna Carta, you can’t gain a deep understanding of contemporary daily Jewish life from Bible alone. Our sages over the centuries bridge that gap.
Finally, on Erev Shavuot itself (May 25th at 8 pm this year), we will have a Tikkun Leil Shavuot (תיקון ליל שבועות), an evening of learning Torah in celebration of the anniversary of Sinai. Long-standing custom is to stay up all night learning on the eve of the holiday to forestall the possibility of oversleeping on such a momentous occasion. We’ll get just a taste of the custom with a roughly two-hour program at a time that is hopefully late enough to get the flavor, but early enough to be reasonable for everyone. Remember, Shavuot is a traditionally milchik holiday, so you can use as much milk as you like in your tea or coffee to keep you up – and there is a very good chance of seeing some cheesecake or danish to nosh in the bargain.
Much like Shabbat services or our Monday and Thursday minyans during the week, these occasions are opportunities for you to not only enrich and enliven your own lived Jewish experience, but also to socialize with and support your friends and fellow congregants as well. In that vein, I would be remiss not to remind you that in addition to Tikkun Leil Shavuot, there will be yontov services on May 26th and 27th (with Yizkor on the latter) and your attendance as your schedule permits will add meaning to your own holiday and help keep the shul functioning as such. I look forward to seeing you there!