Sunday, December 17th, 2017

Sharing on Shavuos

Zalman Velvel
The Jewish people are commanded in the Bible to travel to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, God’s dwelling place on Earth, for the holiday of  Shavuos. They are to bring the first fruits of their harvest, and give whatever they feel the need to share with the Priests in the Holy Temple, as a voluntary gift to God, who freed them from slavery.
On the night of Shavuos until the following night, work is forbidden, and during the early days of Israel, Jews rejoiced with fine food, music and dance. Shavuos was party time, Jewish style, as commanded by God; it was a time of sharing and celebration.
Shavuos also marks the day that God gave the Bible to the Jewish people on Mount Sinai. Today, more than 3,000 years later, after the Holy Temple has been destroyed – twice – it has become a custom for Jews to eat a dairy meal in their homes on the night of Shavuos, and then study the Bible, which we also call our Torah, until morning with family, friends, and neighbors. The big party has been replaced by subdued learning, perhaps with the hope the Jewish people will finally become the holy people God intended them to be, and then they will rebuild the Holy Temple, for the third and last time, and celebrate Shavuos in the way it was intended.
For each Shavuos for the past three years, Ben traveled from America to his second home, his Jewish home, in Hayim Hadash, a yishuv in the hills of Judea-Samaria. During the holiday, he refused to study all night, though there were many classes available. He felt alone, but that was the price he paid after he took the Torah into his heart. He could not study when he knew the commandment was to rejoice.
“So, will you learn with me tonight?” his best friend, Joshua, asked during their Shavuos dinner together in Joshua’s home. He passed the salad, then the potatoes to Ben.
“No,” Ben answered, taking some of the potatoes.
“Is it because you think you are too smart to learn anything from me?” Joshua asked in accented English.
Ben put down his fork angrily. “You know that is not why, Josh.”
“Oh, so you can learn something from me?”
“I have already learned much from you, my Israeli brother.” Ben picked up his fork and devoured the potatoes.
Joshua brightened and puffed out his chest at hearing this.
“Don’t get a swelled head over it,” Ben added, taking a portion from the center plate filled with delicious baked fish from the Sea of Galilee.
Joshua suddenly looked concerned and felt around his head. Ben laughed.
“It is an American expression, Josh. Your head is not swollen. It means you should not become arrogant or conceited. What I have learned from you is not because you are a Torah scholar, but because you practice what a Jew is supposed to do, simply and humbly, without drawing attention to yourself. You understand Torah in your heart.”
“Oh, so I am simple, which means I am really stupid in your eyes,” Joshua continued. The table became quiet. His wife and six children looked up from their plates. They also understood English.
“Stubborn, maybe … but never, ever stupid,” Ben corrected.
“Well, this stubborn Israeli wants to learn with you tonight, and if you refuse me, then it will be as if you are calling me stupid.”
“Why are you doing this?” Ben asked.
“Because I love you,” Joshua answered. He looked around at his wife, and then his children, and added, “Because we all love you, and you are like family – no, not like family. You are family.”
Ben looked around the table. The younger ones had raised eyes, and the older ones were nodding their heads. He said nothing and finished the remainder of the meal, cheese blintzes, in silence. The children left the table and Joshua’s wife, Orli, began clearing and putting away leftovers for the following day. Ben helped, and when he was done, he moved to a couch in the living room that was next to the open kitchen.
Ben looked at the clock on the wall. They had started the meal late, at nine, and now it was ten. He felt the soft velour material on the couch. Joshua had the same couch as Ben, but after three years, Ben’s still looked new, and Joshua’s looked like what it was, a playground for his six children and five grandchildren.
“Okay, what do you want to learn with me tonight?” Ben called to Joshua, who was now carving up a round watermelon, an avatiach.  
Joshua acted like did not hear the question, and Ben did not repeat it. Joshua stood there in his sandals, slacks and white shirt, with fringes hanging out on the four corners, while Ben studied him. He had known Josh for a dozen years, since Josh had brought him to his small yishuv of 100 families living on a hilltop, with the magnificent view of where the Holy Tabernacle once rested. For two or three times during each of those years, Josh shared his home, his food, and his family with Ben, because Ben came alone to Israel. His family preferred the comfort and safety of America, to the “backward and dangerous” Holy Land.
Twelve years and Josh still looks the same, thought Ben. Joshua was five years younger than Ben’s sixty years, and he still had a full head of dark curly hair, clear brown eyes, a straight nose, and the same dark moustache below it, while Ben’s full beard and moustache were gray.
Ben continued to watch Joshua carving up the avatiach, and was reminded that Josh was shorter than he. He thought, I am just shy of six feet tall, and Josh is a few inches less than me, but I never think of him as shorter. Why, he wondered? Probably it’s the way he exercises responsibility in his life, for his family, his friends, and his community that he appears tall. Joshua brought over a bowl filled with juicy watermelon, offered Ben some, then placed it on the table in front of the other couch and sat down. 
“I think we will learn Pirkei Avot, Ethics of our Fathers,” Joshua said,   
“So you did hear me. I thought you were getting old and deaf,” Ben said, smiling. “I’m warning you, Josh. I disagree with many of the conclusions in Pirkei Avot. It will not be an easy time for you.”
© Copyright 2012 by Zalman Velvel Inc.
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