Progressively Speaking: Counting down to Shavuot and possible lockdown freedom

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Progressively Speaking: Counting down to Shavuot and possible lockdown freedom

Rabbi Deborah Blausten looks at a topic from Jewish texts and offers a Reform response

A masked woman passes by the Star of David outside a shul. Jewish communities have been disproportionately affected by the virus. (Photo by Artur Widak/NurPhoto)
A masked woman passes by the Star of David outside a shul. Jewish communities have been disproportionately affected by the virus. (Photo by Artur Widak/NurPhoto)

It’s a rabbi’s dream! A whole community with 17 May in their diaries, as a mark of the start of a new epoch, a collective new beginning and the promise of togetherness. Alas, I fear this has less to do with the fact that this is the date on which Shavuot falls this year and more to do with the date’s position in our roadmap out of lockdown.

While decisions about one aspect of this date are for others to make, something that each of us can do is ask what it means to mark this date Jewishly, as we count our way from Passover to Shavuot, from Exodus to Sinai through the days of the Omer.

Exodus and Sinai are two defining narratives in our Jewish story, and they are inextricably linked. The Israelites were not freed from Egypt to
a world free of responsibility; instead, they emerged from an enforced situation and at Sinai they entered into a covenant with God that laid out
a collective purpose, a positive definition of what it means to be a Jew.

Whereas the Exodus is all about being shaped by our previous experiences, the moment of Sinai gave the Israelites a chance to begin anew. They were not told to forget slavery; indeed some of our most important ethical imperatives in Jewish tradition are rooted in the lessons of that time, but they were also now in a position to shape their lives going forward, and to build a society based on essential values as laid out in the Ten Commandments.

The layered timescales we are living with, the Omer period between Pesach and Shavuot, and the lockdown roadmap presents a real opportunity for thought. Can we use this period to consider what it means to emerge from a place of restriction into a world of freedom? Can we ask important questions about how that society ought to be? About how we treat our neighbour and live our Jewish lives? What would it look like to take this opportunity and reflect on what motivates our choices, taking ownership of our actions and turning the ‘when this is all over I really will’ thoughts of the past year into concrete actions?

  •  Rabbi Deborah Blausten serves Finchley Reform Synagogue

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