A Shavuot love letter

By Rabbi Cary Kozberg Temple Sholom, Springfield

Jewish tradition teaches that Shavuot is z’man matan Torateynu—the time of the giving of our Torah. It commemorates the moment when, after bringing us out of Egypt to Sinai, God called us to be a “kingdom of priests and a holy people” and gave us the means (commandments) to fulfill that mandate. Legend tells us that every Jewish soul — that ever was and ever will be — heard the Voice.

That “Sinai moment” is imagined as the moment when God consecrated us as His own. In other words, it was our wedding: we were offered and accepted a ketubah, a marriage contract, the Torah (Ex. 19:8), “All that the Lord has spoken we will do.”

That would make Shavuot our wedding anniversary. With that in mind, here is a question to those of us who are married: How would we feel if our spouse totally forgot our anniversary? Or worse, how would we feel if our spouse remembered, but totally ignored it?

So many of us forget or simply ignore this arguably most important Jewish holiday. Without Torah, there would be no other holidays. We would have no direction and no compelling purpose or reason to even stick around as a people.

And yet we’re still here—a fact palpably more amazing this year, given the words we spoke just a few weeks ago at our Seders — “In every generation, some rise up to annihilate us.”

For the still-faithful among us, we’re still here because God still wants us here. But for many of us, we’ve forgotten this. Or we simply deny it.

If we would feel badly being forgotten, or ignored, how must God feel? How might God respond? Perhaps in this way?


To My Dearest:

As we approach the day commemorating the beginning of our commitment to one another, I feel the need to send you this. I send it with some frustration, but more in disappointment than anger. But know that these feelings are based in My continuing love and concern for you.

Of late, we have not been on the best of terms. Throughout our millennia-old relationship, we’ve had our ups and downs. When the ups were up, they were way up; when the downs were down…well, you know.

You’ve tried My patience so many times, and yes, there have been times when I wanted to end it, but never could. I never could because, even though you may not believe in or feel connected to Me, I still believe in and feel connected to you.

Through the years, I’ve tried to reach you by sending you prophets and teachers to help you better understand Me and what I’m about. And there have been times when horrible things happened to you, and some of you interpreted those times as My trying to get your attention.

But know this: ever since I sent plagues in Egypt and created the “special effects” at Sinai, I’ve always been trying to get your attention — sometimes more subtly, sometimes more boldly. And if some of you believe that what is currently happening to you is My trying to get your attention? Well, I will not disabuse you of that notion. Because as painful as it is for Me to watch, it’s still a possibility that needs to be considered — believe it or not, for your own good.

That said, I completely understand why you have doubts about Me and My intentions. Given the deplorable state of the world — particularly now — why wouldn’t you ask, Where is God? If God is just, why does He allow evil to exist? If God is compassionate, why does He allow so much suffering?

In truth, from your perspective, these are all fair questions. But I would add that the fact that they bother you enough to even ask them means I did something right.

I’m glad they bother you. I’m glad you struggle with them. Not only do I not discourage or forbid such questions, on the contrary, I want you to struggle with them, to wrestle with them, and therefore with Me.

This is why you are called by the name I gave your ancestor Jacob, Yisrael, the one who wrestles with God. Yes, I love it when you and I wrestle. Because even when we struggle with one another, we are in a close embrace.

But in fairness, just as you ask where is God? I must ask where are you? Where have you been? It’s the same question I asked Adam when he tried to hide from Me that lovely afternoon in the garden. And I can’t help feeling that like Adam, you also continue to hide from Me.

But why? Ever since I connected with your ancestor Abraham, I chose you and had great plans for you to be My “walking commercials” in the world. At Sinai, you agreed to be chosen. I chose you and loved you and saw great potential in you.

To be sure, there have been times when you’ve given Me tremendous pride and naches. But lately it seems that you’ve been doing the Julia Roberts/Runaway Bride thing. And that saddens and disappoints Me.

I want you back. I need you back. I need you back because if you are no longer my “walking commercials,” if you are no longer My “light unto the nations, “whatever happens, the world will become very dark. Look around and see a preview of just how dark the world can become.

As an anniversary gift to you, here are some thoughts of Mine that a poet among you somehow has intuited and expressed beautifully. They’re pretty spot-on and I share them with sincerity and with love:

I know I often seem far away, says Hashem.
I know I have not lived up to your expectations,
Especially at times of your greatest need.

But if it looks like I stand behind barriers —
They are not my creation,
But the result of your doing
And the actions of others.
Dismantle them if you wish to get close to Me:
Admit your own role in building them,
And perpetuating them,
And looking away when others fortify them.

If you rush by, I cannot respond.
If you deny your wounds,
Put up walls,
Or block Me,
I cannot heal.

With each step to dismantle the barriers
I will become closer to you.
If you surrender your defenses,
I will feel so close
That you can feel Me inside You
Healing from within.

— from the poem A Prayer of a Distant God by Rich Orloff

My dearest, I cannot force you to stop hiding. But it is our anniversary, and I do hope we can get closer. If you feel distant, please remember that I am not the one who has moved.
B’ahavat olam, with everlasting love,


To read the complete June 2024 Dayton Jewish Observer, click here.

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