‘First-Timers’ Join Us in Receiving Torah Anew

We can’t think of Shavu’ot without thinking of Pesach – and vice versa.   Here’s why: Pesach celebrates liberty, and freedom from slavery – but not freedom for its own sake, not unbridled freedom, not freedom without a purpose and a framework.  God gave the Jewish people freedom in order to receive and live God’s Torah, which is what we celebrate on Shavu’ot.  In fact, Jewish tradition has us count each day of the seven-week period between Pesach and Shavu’ot (shavu’ot literally means ‘weeks’), highlighting the direct and inevitable connection between the two holidays. This great holiday of Shavu’ot puts forth the principle that freedom unchecked is anarchy, but the freedom with which we were blessed is sacred and to be treasured.  Shavu’ot celebrates the indispensability, divinity, and magnificence of Torah, law, and the moral blueprint for living the good and decent life – in freedom!

Every Shavu’ot the Jewish people – both as a community, and each of us individually – receives Torah anew: its foundation, wisdom, commandments, guidance, support, and meaning. Year after year after year.

While for many of us this is eternally empowering, exhilarating, and ‘awe’-some, for others it becomes cumbersome, and not to be taken so seriously.  Some take their ‘being’ Jewish for granted, pay it little mind, and let it just ‘be.’  Perhaps they need to see people for whom being Jewish is not a given, for whom it is a choice with the most positive and inspiring ramifications, for whom Judaism is so worthy, desirable, and meaningful.

While many born Jews have a holy and glorious relationship with Judaism, it is so remarkable and truly moving for all of us when those ‘outside the fold’ decide to join our people with deep sincerity, authenticity, conviction, and abounding joy.

We are so very blessed and excited to celebrate this happening in our very midst, in our own kehillah.  It has been my pleasure and privilege, over the past two years, to teach and guide four fine and worthy individuals on their journey towards conversion to Judaism.  Just days ago, with Shavu’ot around the corner, I was honored to oversee – along with a beit din I convened for this purpose – their prescribed conversion at the mikveh, as they have fulfilled all the requirements to formally become part of the Jewish family, to become one with our heritage and destiny.  As such, the beit din endorsed, witnessed, and made official their conversion to Judaism!

Many of you have gotten to know Daniela, Ellie, James, and Alyssa, as they have been regulars at our Shabbat services and have become a delightful and involved presence in the life of our kehillah.  I have no doubt that these old and new Ashreynu bonds will only grow with them.  I pray, and have every confidence, that their new identity and their ongoing presence in our shul will continue to help strengthen themselves, our community, and our people.  I take great joy in having the privilege of being their teacher and Rabbi. 

Please join us for services on May 20, just days before Shavu’ot, as they stand at the Torah to be ‘officially’ welcomed ‘into the fold,’ to be publically given their Hebrew names, to have their first aliyot to the Torah, and to receive your enthusiastic warm ‘mazal tov’ wishes.

And as the holiday approaches, I wish for each of us to have a meaningful Shavu’ot.  May each of us receive Torah anew, with positive and inspiring ramifications for our lives – forging, building, and continuing a relationship with Judaism that is eternally worthy, sacred, desirable, and meaningful.

Mazal tov, and Chag sameiach!

Rabbi Jonathan Pearl

ADDENDUM: Ma’alin b’simcha – we increase in joy! I am pleased to share with you that, in addition to the great happiness and celebration we experienced with the four individuals I mentioned above, I also led another familiar presence at Ashreynu – Cody Butler – through the process of his conversion over the past few years, oversaw his prescribed conversion at the mikveh this past week, and will ‘officially’ welcome him, give him his Hebrew name, and give him his first aliyah to the Torah this Friday during Shavu’ot services. Mazal tov, and chag sameiach!