flag image
Beline Obeid

The completion of the journey from slavery

June 05, 2014
The Passover ceremony begins the story of the exodus from Egypt to freedom.

This is only the beginning of the journey. The Torah specifies another agricultural holiday to begin on the 50th day after Passover begins. This is the holiday of Shavuot. During this time the days are counted until the arrival of this holiday. On the 50th day, the Hebrew people arrived at Mt. Sinai.

This is the end of one journey and the beginning of another. On that day, the Hebrews became the Jewish nation. We all became converts to the One G-d.

At Sinai, they received the Torah, the law, from G-d through Moses. Every man, woman and child experienced the word of G-d with all their senses. Thus a covenant was formed between the people and their Lord, a covenant that bound those who were not there as well as those who heard the law. Those who were not there, of course, were all of the subsequent generations who would be bound by the conditions of the covenant. It is a communal fulfillment of the Exodus, a testimony that G-d spoke to them at Mt. Sinai and they would continue to transmit his message throughout all time.

It is customary to eat dairy foods on Shavuot. The people had just received the laws about kosher foods, hence the use of dairy since there was no meat that had been slaughtered according to the Kashrut laws. Some eat milk and honey, because the Torah is compared to sweetness and pleasure.

As it says in the Song of Songs: "Honey drops from your lips, O bride, honey and milk are under your tongue." (Song of Songs 4:11) Both milk and honey are foods that do not require the taking of life, or even the interruption of growth. They, like the Torah, are in harmony with nature. It is also significant the "promised land," Israel, is the land of "milk and honey."

During the morning service on Shavout we read the book of Ruth.

Ruth is a Moabite woman who converts to Judaism and became the epitome of a righteous convert and she was the great-grandmother of King David.

Why the book of Ruth?

Perhaps the answer is that at Sinai we were all converts to the law. It is also in our tradition David was born and died on Shavuot. It is also thought the Messiah will ultimately trace his lineage to King David. Hence the genealogies in the gospels of the New Testament. This was, in the time of the temple, the holiday when the first fruits were brought to Jerusalem as offerings. Today, many decorate their homes with flowers and branches. The night before the holiday is traditionally used for study, special prayers are added to the service and on the last day prayers are said for the departed.

The holiday is June 4 and 5. It is fitting the freedom to worship G-d is the culmination the Passover season. This rings resonantly today when many forms of freedom are under attack, some from surprising sources. We remember the promises of the covenant which offers freedom to all people. After all, we are all children of G-d. He chides His angels for rejoicing when the legions of Pharaoh are drowning in the Red Sea by pointing out these too are his creations. The book of Jonah points to a similar message, all are children of the Lord are important to him.

As we see human slavery and injustice in our societies, isn't it also incumbent upon us to remember Sinai and freedom? In Christian tradition, this holiday is called Pentecost. Although the theological message is different, it also ennobles the sanctity of life and hence liberty.

I do hope our prayers for peace and justice will be answered at this season. It will take work on our part; it is not something that will be just handed to us. I also pray for understanding among all of his creatures and a more compassionate care of his world and all of his creations.

Skully is cantor at the Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue and president of the Grosse Pointe Ministerial Association.

To read the rest of the story, log in or subscribe to the Grosse Pointe News >>

Family Center Ask the Experts 1
Grosse Pointe Chamber
Riverbank Theatre 3
Ed Rinke Right