In the midst of a pandemic we are making decisions of how we live our lives and move forward with the help of a set of guidelines. Our leaders are telling us what we need to do to not only live a longer healthier life, but how we need to interact around people, what might help us avoid problems in the future, and what we need to do to take into consideration the needs of others. We are strongly urged to follow these guidelines. Some institutions are making them mandatory. Some people are getting mad at others who don’t follow them, while others are attempting to shame people into interpreting them in a like-minded fashion. In the end people make their choices, sometimes standing alone in their choice, often standing with others. Sound familiar? It should. It’s the tale as old as time. And starting at sundown tonight, the Jewish people commemorate when it all began.
Shavuot is the holiday in which the Jews celebrate the giving of the law at Mt. Sinai. As Jews we call this the Torah, but in the eyes of many outside of Orthodox Judaism this is when God gave Moses the 10 commandments. The more expanded understanding in traditional Orthodox Judaism is that all law was given by God at the mountain and that subsequently Rabbinical authorities have interpreted it as to how it applies in day to day life. Regardless of what you believe was given by God to Moses on this day, what we do know is that from this original set of guidelines entire religious groups were formed, whether it was different branches of Judaism or Christianity, which as we all know began with a group of Jewish people with their own specific account and interpretation of events.
Those who started from the premise that something really did happen on Mt. Sinai have chosen to either base their life, or in some ways structure their lives around some element of these guidelines. Many feel that following as many decrees put forth by their religious leaders as possible gets them closer to the precise account of the day, while others feel the basic 10 commandments, and even more precisely the 10 commandments speaking to human behavior towards their fellow human being is closest to the original intent.
When all is said and done, each person makes their own choice. Granted some are born into it and surrounded by it with such intensity that changing direction is anywhere between hard and unlikely, but they have that choice nonetheless. And guess what? There is nothing wrong with that, since if their is one axiom we generally agree on, at least as Jews, is that everyone has free will.
So as some struggle with the concept of guidelines and actions that impact their daily lives, look back and realize that to many, that is what man has always been encouraged, some might say even obligated to do, regardless of whether they like it or not. But subsequently we need to also remember that it is not our place to judge their choice. It never was and never will be.
Wishing all my Jewish friends a wonderful, healthy, and meaningful Shavuot and to all of you, happiness and peace.
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