Rabbi Rick Jacobs

Shavuot: Celebration and Obligation



In just a few days, we will conclude this year’s counting of the Omer with the celebration of Shavuot, the first of our tradition’s three annual pilgrimage festivals, and the one that has come to be associated with the giving of Torah atop Mt.Sinai, as well as with confirmation and post b’nai mitzvah study. The Festival of Weeks also seamlessly embodies two of the strategic priorities of the URJ’s 2020 Vision: audacious hospitality and tikkun olam (social justice).

Indeed, our Movement’s commitment to audacious hospitality (including interfaith outreach and more) draws deeply from the Book of Ruth, which traditionally is associated with Shavuot. As Ruth the Moabite cleaves to Naomi and the Jewish people, it is significant that not only were the Moabites among the Israelites’ staunchest enemies, but also, and most inspiringly, that Ruth would go on to become the great-grandmother of King David and thus, according to our tradition, an ancestor of the Messiah.

This story from our history highlights for me just how essential it is that all of us in the Reform Movement endeavor tirelessly to offer unyielding welcome, and to demonstrate the value and respect we have for the many, many Ruths among us today, regardless of where they are in their Jewish journeys.  In fact, fully 17 percent of American Jews – although raised in other traditions, according to the recently released study by the Pew Research Center, America’s Changing Religious Landscape – have chosen to make their spiritual home with the Jewish people.

Only when our congregations and communities intentionally and wholeheartedly welcome, nurture, and build genuine relationships with these individuals – the spouses and partners of Jews-by-birth, the parents of children in our religious schools and youth groups, millennials raised in interfaith homes, as well as the rest of the diverse array of spiritual seekers and explorers who find their way to our synagogues’ doorsteps (and those who don’t)  – can we ensure that the Jewish people will grow, thrive, and be continually strengthened, inspired, and enriched for generations to come.

In the realm of tikkun olam, two commandments in Leviticus, which mandate that we leave crops at the corners of the fields (pei’ah) and fallen grain (sh’chicah) for the poor, are associated with Shavuot and our responsibility to feed the hungry. Whether they want for food to nourish their bodies or are searching instead for sustenance for their souls, it is the task of all of us in the Reform Movement to work to alleviate hunger – physical or spiritual – in the bodies and souls of those around us.

Even as we in the Reform Jewish community continue to make progress fulfilling our commitment to audacious hospitality and to the commandments of pei’ah and sh’chicah, much work remains. Indeed, there is no better time than Shavuot to rededicate ourselves to Torah, to audacious hospitality, and to ensuring the strength, vitality, and spiritual satiety of all within our midst.

Chag sameach!

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Rabbi Rick Jacobs

About Rabbi Rick Jacobs

Rabbi Rick Jacobs is the president of the URJ. See his full bio and other writings on the URJ website.

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