Shavuot is sometimes thought of as being unusually short. In the Diaspora it lasts two days and yet Pesach and Sukkot last for eight. But actually it is possible to view it as being the longest rather than the shortest of the pilgrim festivals, for it is also called Atzeret-the completion of Pesach-and its name "Shavuot" refers to the “weeks” we have counted between Pesach and the climactic festival day.
The rabbis reflected on many connecting aspects between the festivals of Pesach and Shavuot, but the one which has come into my own mind this year is the symbol of bread. One of the central observances of Pesach is our eating only unleavened bread--matza. One of the central symbols of Shavuot is bread as a Temple sacrifice.
The distinguishing special offering of the biblical festival of Shavuot is the wave offering of two loaves (Leviticus23:17). It is both a Thanksgiving and a Theological statement.
Bread is unlike the offering of fruit or natural produce, and unlike the sacrifice of animals because, uniquely, it involves the intensive labour of humans to produce it. In our daily prayers before meals we notice the apparently inaccurate statement blessing G-d “who brings forth bread from the earth”. Many have spotted that it should perhaps read “brings forth wheat”, but all have acknowledged that the choice of words is no mistake.
The Voice of Sinai is the Voice of G-d Almighty-The Voice of El Shaddai, the G-d of the mountains. In Spanish “Almighty” is rendered as “El Todopoderoso” which is perhaps best translated as “The One who can do everything”.
When we hope that our petitions in prayer will have an effect on the world, when we ask G-d for assistance and strength in our own troubles and trials, when we perform acts of contemplative prayer that we hope will bring the Light of the Torah into our dimension, we are declaring with confidence that G-d is not a concept , nor a pious traditional focus of community intentions, nor a distant but unconcerned force...but that He is the One who is the Ground of Being and the Breath of Life. That “G-d can do, and G-d can hear.”
Though we are potentially G-d’s partners, and though we are potentially His hands and feet in this world, it is important to remember that without His Will, without His Breath in us, without His blessing on our heads, nothing can “be done”.
Some things are done by the act of man. Some things are done by the act of man working in hopeful “covenant” with G-d. But actually, in reality...all things are done by G-d. This is one of the reasons our prayer is both necessary and an effective form of action. In “The Cave of the Heart” I expressed this by saying that "contemplatives" are in some sense G-d’s “mind” in the world, and that without our lives or our activity there would be a certain “waste” of human potential.
This Shavuot may we remember the Festival wave offering of bread, and thank the G-d of Sinai by making our prayer itself its contemporary re-presentation:- the korban of “bread” that brings Him closer to our “World”.
May we say “Torah is our bread. Our bread is Torah.”
As we prepare that very special “bread”- may we also remember that the prayer we offer, with all our heart, is simultaneously His Voice Speaking.
“We will do, and We will hear” (Exodus 24:7)
N R Davies
May 12 2010
(The illustration which heads this article is from the Flickr album of angerboy)