JWR Outlook

Jewish World Review June 5, 2003 / 5 Sivan, 5763

Shavuos: A wedding for the ages

By Rabbi Yonason Goldson

http://www.jewishworldreview.com | The bride has spent weeks and months preparing for her wedding day. The dress is custom designed by Parisian tailors. The flowers are cut the morning of the ceremony and flown in from Belgium on the Concorde. The seven-piece orchestra has performed at the White House and the Met. None of this is too extravagant for the fiancee of a wealthy and powerful young man.

So imagine the shock, the chagrin, and the outrage when our bride arrives at the appointed time and place, only to discover that her groom has chosen as the site of the nuptials not a ballroom in the Waldorf Astoria, but a barren expanse of desert without a single amenity as far as the eye can see.

Such might have been the reaction of the Jewish people when, on the fiftieth day after the Exodus from Egypt, they prepared to accept their new status as a holy people and enter into a relationship no less profound and intimate than a virtual betrothal to the Divine; for there they stood, not in a beautiful garden, nor overlooking a majestic vista, nor beside the azure waves of the sea, but at the foot of an obscure mountain in the midst of a sandy and desolate wilderness.

Indeed, the holiday of Shavuos, on which we commemorate the forging of our eternal bond with the Almighty 3,315 years ago, echoes the simplicity of the day it celebrates with a notable absence of embellishment. There is neither matzah nor sukkah, neither menorah nor shofar, neither festive drinking nor solemn fasting. How is this a proper celebration of the holiday which, more than any other, defines us as a nation?

The Talmud declares that, "This is the way of the Torah: eat bread with salt, drink water in moderation, and sleep on the floor."

We donıt observe such austere conduct, however, even among the most devoutly pious of Jews. Rather, the Talmud means to instruct us that we should always be prepared, if necessary, to get by with only the minimum. If we have bread to eat, water to drink, and a roof over our heads, then we have at least the basics that we need to live. Everything else is gravy.

Am I allowed to indulge myself beyond the minimum? Of course I am. But if I indulge myself to the extent that I become dependent upon luxury, that I can no longer function without my Lexus and my Armani suit, without my Louis Vuitton luggage and my villa in Majorca, without my cafe latte and my Godiva chocolate, then I have made myself a slave to my passions. Instead of my possession serving me, I live in service of them.

A state of balance between the material and the spiritual is what should describe the human condition. The more emphasis one places on the material, however, the less attention remains to give to the spiritual. This does not mean that as Jews we should strive for asceticism or monasticism, but that we must battle our natural inclination toward material self-gratification, lest we render ourselves insensitive to spirituality.

In anticipation of a wedding, how often does the anxiety of preparation overshadow the joy of the union itself, how commonly are the emotional and psychological needs of the young couple forgotten in the frenzy of organizing invitations and appetizers and photographs? How easy is it for us to lose sight of whatıs really important as we immerse ourselves in details that are, in comparison, temporal and trivial?

Not so at Sinai. The absence of material ornamentation left our ancestors free to focus upon what was of paramount importance: their budding intimacy with their Beloved on high. For just as over-involvement in the material deadens us to the spiritual, engagement in the spiritual weans us from hyperdependence on the material. And if we find that spirituality seems to us abstract and obscure and unrewarding, perhaps we need look no further than the style of our own lives to discover how we have sold ourselves into the servitude of profitless excess.

At Sinai there was no fancy ceremony. No expensive reception. No elaborate banquet. No cheesecake. Not even bagels and cream cheese. There was only a nation of Jews, with one heart and one soul, dedicating themselves in a spiritual mission that, through its fulfillment, can serve as the spiritual inspiration for all mankind.

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JWR contributor Rabbi Yonason Goldson teaches at Block Yeshiva High School and Aish HaTorah in St. Louis. To comment, please click here.


© Rabbi Yonason Goldson