Shavuot and Nature’s Healing

I just received permission to share Rabbi Chayva Lehrman of Am Tikvah in San Francisco’s message to her congregation. It is about Shavuot, but a question we can ponder throughout life.

“Why was the Torah given in the desert?” asks the midrash. One might think that the Torah, the wellspring of Jewish tradition, should have sprung from a place less…desiccated, perhaps. The midrash, of course, answers its own question. “To teach you that if a person does not hold themselves as unpossessed as the desert, they do not become worthy of the words of the Torah; and that, as the desert has no end, so there is no end to the words of Torah.”

We think a lot about the giving of Torah as the holiday of Shavuot approaches next week. But what does it mean to hold oneself as unpossessed as the desert? The desert brings our vulnerability into focus – our lack of control before the elements. In the lives we conduct in our normal environs, we often try to exert a high amount of control. We try to be productive, and to aim our activities and the pieces of our lives towards our goals. What if, for Shavuot, we released those goals? What if our only goal of this pilgrimage holiday, when tradition says we received the Torah, and history says we brought the barley harvest to the temple in Jerusalem, what if for this holiday our only goal was to be open? Perhaps with this openness, we will merit whatever learning we discover.

We struggle daily to control the world around us. That makes sense. But every now and then it is useful to simply observe and consider. Our lives are spent in a whirlwind of activities. With electronic devices we need never be without distraction. Yet for untold generations humans lived in nature, lived with great stretches of their own thoughts – perhaps the only voices were birdsong.  Judaism is an ancient – and at its heart, an agricultural tradition. Science tells us that we need nature. Shavuot is the coming of spring and is celebrated with flowers. Today – go out and stand near a tree or flower. Just observe it. Say a blessing of your own design over it. Let its beauty soothe you.