Thursday, 21 May 2015

Why do Jews eat dairy products at Shavuot? It's a love thing.

The classic Jewish food of Shavuot is cheesecake (or smatana in my family), in any event – something dairy. Why? It’s not something specified in the Torah. But the classic Rabbinic answer is that the Jews knew there would be something in the revelation of Shavuot about meat, and not knowing what it would be, not wanting to start off a relationship with God post-revelation on the wrong foot, they were extra careful.

It’s a touching idea.


Perhaps the most beautiful series of Midrashim around the giving of Torah are those that compare this moment to a wedding, between God and the people of Israel with the Torah serving as the Ketubah –revelation is understood as love. The blessing said daily just before the Shema includes the wish that we should ‘understand, comprehend, and fulfil all the words of Your Torah in love.’ The blessing has the word love as its first and last word. And this is the key to the ‘decision’ to eat meat – the decision to be extra careful.


Relationships are based on care, on the decisions we take to ensure that those we love, those we wish will love us, will not be hurt by actions. When in love we take the initiative in actions that keep the possibility of hurt far away. If you are falling in love, you turn up early for a date. You floss. You check whether the trains are running before you head off on some romantic bank-holiday trip together. Love, between God and Israel, or between Israelites – or any human – is taking a step before being asked to so do. Love is not rocking back, arms crossed over the chest, waiting to be impressed. Love takes a leap, a risk, an open heart, a willingness to experience that which we don’t entirely know.


So my request, this Shavuot eve, is leap a little, step forward a little, try a little.

We have a wonderful Tikkun Leyl evening planned. You can come later even if you haven’t booked the dinner. We have services throughout the Yom Tov, and there is much to experience. You might even fall in love with Torah and its creator,


Shabbat shalom and Chag Sameach,


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