Shavuot is coming, and barring a medical miracle, we will be celebrating at home … again!
As a Rabbi at Chabad, I have had a front-row seat as our nation has prepared to celebrate various holidays alone together. We have fielded gut-wrenching questions from isolated seniors, struggling families, and so many others.
But the goal was simple enough: To help as many people as possible celebrate as normally as possible. And with creativity, strength, faith, and compassion, we, the Jewish people, passed with flying colors. We crunched our matzah, drank our wine, and put a little extra feeling into our wishes that we celebrate next year in Jerusalem.
So yes, we miss going to synagogue on a daily basis, but we knew that we could celebrate Passover at home, because, well, what better place is there to celebrate Passover than a Jewish home?
But Shavuot is a different story.
You see, the Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, has encouraged every living Jew, from newborns to nonagenarians and beyond, to be present during services on the first morning of Shavuot, when we relive the experience by reading the record of the event from the Torah scroll.
And the Torah reading can only take place if you have a) a kosher Torah scroll, and b) a quorum of 10 adult males, neither of which I have conveniently stashed away in my living room.
So what will Shavuot be without the Torah reading? It will be like Yom Kippur without sneakers or a birthday party without a cake.
More than Passover and more than Lag BaOmer, I wondered about Shavuot weeks in advance. How would I celebrate, and what would I write to our readers all over the world wondering how to celebrate?
After a consultation with our rabbinic advisory board, I was ready to write our guide on celebrating Shavuot at home, including the directive that we each read the Ten Commandments (indeed the entire Torah reading if possible) from a printed book at home, recreating the synagogue experience to the best of our limited abilities.
But I was still not satisfied. How can it be that we will not attend synagogue on Shavuot?
Then I remembered one of the central lessons of the holiday, when we celebrate the dramatic union of Heaven and earth and how the Divine communicated directly with the Jewish nation.
Where did G‑d choose to conduct this vital historic event? Not on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, not in the city of Hebron replete with spiritual and historic significance, and not even in a major population center.
He chose an anonymous mountain out in the sand-swept wilderness. Why?
The Midrash asks this very question. Noting that the giving of the Torah was accompanied by flames of fire, and a deluge of water, the sages explain that the Torah was given in a place where everyone is free to roam, accompanied by things that are available, free of charge, to anyone in any place. The lesson, they explain, is that the Torah is not the domain of an elite group, limited to any set of circumstances. Rather it is equally accessible to everyone who wishes, wherever they are.
And this is the lesson that I take for myself.
My house does not have the pews or other trappings associated with a synagogue, but my house is Mount Sinai, and that is where I will be celebrating this Shavuot.