The Torah portion, or parasha, this week focuses on Shavuot. Shavuot is one of the three pilgrimage festivals where the Israelites traveled to Jerusalem. Readings include Exodus 19:1-20:23 and Numbers 28:26-31. The first passage start with the giving of the 10 Commandments where God tells Moses to instruct the people to prepare to receive the Torah at Mount Sinai. Amid thunder and lightning, thick clouds, and the sound of a shofar, God speaks the Ten Statements (Commandments). The people are overwhelmed but Moses reassures the people and tells them that God wants them to remember that day and always worship God and not the idols of other nations. The second passage tells the Israelites to celebrate the Feast of Weeks (Shavuot) by bringing their first fruits of their grain to the temple, and specifies the sacrifices for the occasion.
Shavuot is a time when we reflect on our covenant and connection to God, and renew our commitment to the Torah. But the Torah did not come easy to us when we received it. It was not something we found when we arrived at a land flowing with milk and honey, but rather at the foot of a very ominous mountain. We had to first cross the Sea of Reeds and enter the wilderness to receive it. We also experienced uncertainty and hardship in the wilderness. But it was our mountain encounter and wilderness experience that helped us learn the meaning of what the Torah teaches us—to love God, love one another, live a life of character, and make the world a better place. Only then did we enter a land flowing with milk and honey.
So when we celebrate Shavuot this year, whether we are engaged in deep Torah study remembering that first encounter or eating blintzes and cheesecake, let us remember that in life, we will face a lot of mountains and wilderness experiences, with many ups and downs. But God who was with our ancestors through those mountain and wilderness experiences and guided them to the promised land, will be with us as well.