Bamidbar/Shavuot: ultimate folk festival

mainstageI love going to folk festivals. I used to go all the time. There’s something about a huge group of people, all facing the main stage, waiting expectantly for the groups to perform, gathering the entire crowd into a remarkably intimate moment, focusing our attention and quite literally tuning our ears and voices to one frequency. The harmony emerges from the crowd. The performers welcome the interchange, and when the last notes hang in the air, in full-throated chords, there is magic. No lie…the only time I’ve ever seen a triple rainbow was sitting on a hillside, facing a main stage, waiting for the music to start.

That’s what Sinai was like, I’m guessing.

This weekend we begin celebrating Shavuot, the festival of receiving the Torah. It comes exactly 49 days after Passover, and through the counting of the Omer, we have been journeying to this point, at this time, from slavery to becoming our own nation. I say that instead of “freedom”, because we don’t suddenly get to do whatever we want; to the contrary, we receive Torah, a blueprint for society that lays out our behavior toward God, but more importantly, our behavior toward each other. God’s Torah is the foundation on which we can build a just and righteous society, in which God’s presence is felt and recognized.

Over and over again, we are told to consider the needs of the vulnerable in our midst. Over and over, Torah tells us how to conduct business, how to treat the earth, how to treat each other, how to stay in covenant with God, how to keep that relationship going, and how to sustain our human community. There is always a balance to keep; when our relationship with God is on course, our society is reflected in that. By the same token, when we keep justice and compassion at the center of our community, our relationship with God is sustained.

This week, we also begin the book of Bamidbar, Numbers, though that’s a name that only comes from the fact that a census is taken right at the beginning. Better translation is “in the wilderness”, for that is what we are doing now. We’ve been at the base of the mountain for a long time, and it’s time to get moving.

Head ‘em up, move ‘em out.

There’s a lot written in this parasha about who stands where, who does what, whose job is what, etc. But at the center of it all, literally, is the Tabernacle, the Mishkan. It’s the center of the community, physically and spiritually. It’s where it all happens. It’s the main stage.

Celebrating the Torah is the festival I love to attend over and over. See you at Sinai. I’ll be the one singing next to you.

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