Living and Learning in Jerusalem: Embracing Torah and Unity During Challenging Times

I am grateful for each day I spend here and want to share my beautiful experiences living in this city.

Firstly, I have the privilege of engaging in in-person Torah study with exceptional teachers almost every day of the week. There are numerous places of learning for men, women, mixed-gender groups, and children of all ages. This period between Passover and Shavuot commemorates the Torah’s giving at Mount Sinai and is filled with extensive Torah study. The forty-nine days between Passover and Shavuot are a time for personal preparation for receiving the Torah. This period also coincides with spring in the Holy Land, adding to the joy with the blossoming of fruit trees lining the streets.

It may be hard for those outside of Israel to grasp the extent to which our Torah and Torah laws, known as “halacha,” influence every facet of life in Israel: from social interactions, child-rearing, and healthcare to agriculture, ecology, governance, and even times of war. The Torah, our sacred text, and thousands of preserved rabbinic commentaries offer guidance on virtually every aspect of daily life.

The practice of counting the days between the Passover Seder and the night of Shavuot is known as “Counting the Omer.” This tradition mentioned in the Torah was initially connected to the sacrificial offerings in the ancient Jerusalem Temples. In contemporary times, Counting the Omer is associated with a Kabbalistic practice of personal growth.

During the seven weeks between these two holidays, studying the Mishnaic text called Pirkei Avot, also known as Ethics of the Fathers, has become customary. One of the precepts of Pirkei Avot, Chapter 1, verse 3, states:

“Antignos of Socho received the tradition from Shimon the Righteous. He would say: Do not be as slaves, who serve their master for the sake of reward. Rather, be as slaves who serve their masters not for the sake of reward. And the fear of Heaven should be upon you.”

Rabbi Yossi Goldin, a faculty member at the OU in Jerusalem, elaborated on this verse, emphasizing that one should study the Torah without seeking earthly rewards. The true and ultimate reward lies in the spiritual blessings derived from Torah study, both in this world and in the World to Come, Olam Habah in Hebrew.

I have the privilege of attending Torah classes in person almost daily and deeply cherish this opportunity.

Many communities worldwide organize all-night Torah study sessions on the night of Shavuot, concluding at sunrise with the customary communal prayer service, where we read the Torah portion relating to the events at Mount Sinai and recount the Ten Commandments.

Our military’s strength is not solely derived from material support, which is undeniably crucial, but also from the spiritual resources of all the people of Israel who pray and support our war efforts through the observance of Torah commandments/mitzvot, wherever they may be, along with our daily communal prayers and Torah study.

In her Shavuot message, Israeli leader Sivan Rahav-Meir articulates the essence of the festival by stating:

“The festival of Shavuot begins this evening. It represents a much-needed revolution in the form of true unity. We have long known how to unite in the face of a common enemy. On Simchat Torah, last October 7, Sinwar wanted to kill all of us, regardless of our political or religious affiliation, and so we united. An external threat has always increased our sense of mutual responsibility. That’s only logical, but it’s not enough.

The festival of Shavuot calls upon us to rise to the next level — that of authentic unity, unity for its own sake. When the Torah was given, we were not running away or hiding from anyone. We did not come together because of Nazis, antisemites, Hizbollah, or Hamas. We simply gathered joyfully at Mount Sinai and there received our identity. We heard the Ten Commandments and declared in unison: “Na’aseh V’nishma” (We will do and we will understand).”

Our identity should not be shaped by fear but rather by what we embrace, shifting from negative thinking to positive affirmation. Ultimately, our enduring unity is rooted in our remarkable shared history and hopeful future.

I have previously written about Shavuot, emphasizing the yearly renewal of the Jewish people’s commitment to the eternal Ten Commandments, which form the core of our national creed and aspiration.

Wishing everyone a hag sameach, a joyous holiday that has the potential to unite all peoples under the Divine Umbrella of Peace and Justice.


Footnotes:

  1. Feldheim Publications. “What Is the Counting of the Omer?” The Book of Our Heritage. Chabad.org
  2. Pirkei Avot: The translated text, selected insights, audio classes, and stories for the children. Chabad.org
  3. Rabbi Yossi Goldin, Faculty of the OU
  4. Sivan Rahav-Meir’s daily WhatsApp: Translation by Yehoshua Siskin

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