Parshot Festivals

G-d is one – and so are we

Unlike most other holidays, Shavuot doesn’t have many ceremonial rituals. Paramount to the traditional celebration in better times was convening in shul to hear the ten commandments, often followed by a deluxe dairy feast.
by RABBI ARI KIEVMAN | May 21, 2020

In Temple times, the primary mitzvah was that of bikkurim: the biblical tenet to bring one’s first-ripened fruits to the beit hamikdash in Jerusalem as a gift to the priests, declaring thanks to G-d.

What’s interesting is that when Moses instructed the Jewish people about this mitzvah, they were still wandering in the desert, not yet settled in Israel, not yet landowners, not yet harvesting any fields or vineyards from which to bring their bikkurim gift. Only once they finally conquered and settled in the Holy Land, a process that took 14 years, did this mitzvah become applicable.

Why? We aren’t meant to take our blessings for granted. So, if the purpose of bikkurim was to express our gratitude, then why wait 14 years? Perhaps the commandment should have been implemented on a personal basis – as each family settled on their designated land, they could begin practicing bikkurim at their first available opportunity. Then, by the end of the 14-year settling process, the entire Jewish people would be involved in the mitzvah.

Our sages explain that indeed, the bikkurim commandment wouldn’t take effect until everyone inhabited their inheritance of land. Even if I was ensconced in my property but others weren’t yet on theirs, I couldn’t rejoice until everyone was settled.

Why wait for others? Shouldn’t I be grateful as soon as my crop has grown?

In Tractate Shavuot (39a), the Talmud explains, “All of Israel are guarantors for each other.” As long as a fellow Jew was still unsettled, it was impossible for anyone else to truly celebrate. If my fellow is lacking, if my neighbour isn’t yet settled, I myself can’t feel fully content and settled.

The atmosphere at Mount Sinai was similar. We were worthy to receive the Torah only when we were all in the same situation. “One person, with one heart,” (Rashi) in genuine unity.

As a Jewish community, we have always been keenly aware of our unity as a nation. The past few months have reminded us of this universal lesson for all humanity.

Because all of humanity is created in the divine image, it follows by extension that we are all connected. If “G-d is one,” then essentially we are all one. As postulated in the so-called “butterfly effect” (a small change that can make much bigger change happen), the slightest change in initial conditions can have an exponential effect on the outcome. Nothing can be regarded in isolation.

Our community’s swift response to COVID-19 and our extended protocols to prevent any transmission of the disease has emphasised this lesson. In the interest of protecting a single potentially susceptible person, we all engaged in severe restriction. Saving that life is saving the world.

We are all in this together. For me to win, I need you to win. With the almighty’s help, may our dramatic changes at the beginning of our country’s experience with this pandemic result in dramatic positive outcomes.

This year, as we accept the Torah with renewed joy and commitment, though we are each in our own homes, we are united in our determination to win it together.

  • Rabbi Ari Kievman is the rabbi of Sandton Central Shul – Chabad Goodness & Kindness Centre.

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