Today is the festival of Shavuot, commemorating our receiving the Torah at Mt. Sinai some 3,000 years ago. And even as so much has happened to our people throughout the years, still it is Torah that is at the heart of Jewish life.
I believe that Shavuot should have great meaning for us, whether we describe ourselves as “religious” or not. For there is no understanding our continued existence in this world without Torah and its values and ideals. It is Torah, whether we believe it to be given by God or inspired by those who felt close to God, that has always given us Jews a reason to be.
I recall that not long ago, a child asked me: “Why is the Torah so special to us?” I responded with what I thought to be an age appropriate answer: “The Torah teaches us to be good and kind people, and that each of us is special and holy.”
But the answer really goes much deeper. In Torah we Jews have found our God and our people. In Torah we Jews have found a way of life that teaches justice, compassion and hope. In Torah we have found the reason to keep living as Jews, and for many, the reason to die as Jews.
In Torah, we have always learned that each human life is a sacred gift from God, to be guarded and cherished. And in Torah we have found the inspiration to persist in our struggle against darkness and despair, oppression and human callousness.
Yes, we Jews have survived the trials of history, but only because we have had a compelling reason to survive. That reason is Torah—the call, the challenge, and the promise that Torah represents to us.
Long ago our sages taught that each generation must stand at its own Mt. Sinai and accept the Torah for itself. So may we embrace our precious heritage which compels us to live by worthy values and to aspire to noble ideals. Ours, a tradition which from that first encounter with God at Mt. Sinai calls to us to bring light where there is darkness, and hope where there is despair. In Torah we learn that if a person does not strive to be more than human, then we often end up as less than human.
I wish you a Sabbath of joy and tranquility as I hope that you will join us this evening for our celebration of Shavuot.