It smells like peaches. And freedom. Summer Break is knocking on the door. The air feels warmer and the anticipation of beach days and lounging and lazy late afternoons is tickling skin and soul. Everyone is dressed in white. There are bales of hay and flower crowns. My mom and I are making blintzes and laughing together in the kitchen.
I have beautiful childhood and teenhood memories of Shavuot.
It was never about religion, and always about the food.
Growing up secular, it didn’t cross my mind that the “White Night” – an all night event my school used to host right before the holiday – wasn’t about flirting with the cute older boys into the wee hours of the morning. It was an attempt to bring something from the Jewish tradition into our progressive, secular, arts school. While religious Jews around the country and the world gathered in synagogues to study the Torah all night long on Shavuot, our school picked a theme, the teachers prepared lectures, movies related to the topic were playing, and we gathered at school for a night of education. It was a festival of hormones.
The story is that the people of Israel were sleeping in that morning. They didn’t get up on time to go receive the Torah from God – the stories, rules, and poetry that are at the center of the Jewish tradition (they were walking in the desert for seven weeks at that point, and I imagine they were exhausted). Moses had to go around and wake them up. So once a year, on the night of Shavuot – the holiday that celebrates the receiving of the Torah and the Ten Commandments – Jews are supposed to stay up all night long to study the Torah, in order to make up for that lazy morning 4000 + years ago.
There is something about staying up all night that does give you access to deep and unseen parts of yourself. Studying sacred scripture under the watch of the owl can open us up to new and vast ways of thinking, feeling, and being.
- Fresh cut watermelon bite dripping down my chin as I watch Axel Rose on TV, running on stage, wearing a skirt and a bandana, singing Bohemian Rhapsody with Sir Elton John at the Freddie Mercury tribute concert. My mom making all kinds of cheese related foods for our Shavuot dinner. I go back and forth between dancing in the living room and helping her in the kitchen, promising myself not to eat too much at this holiday meal. The Israelites receive the Ten Commandments from God. Thou Shall Not Call Thyself Fat is not one of them. I fail to receive my body, my beauty, my bounty. “I’m not good enough” is echoing inside of me. Not skinny enough, not smart enough, not pretty enough. And I dance harder, hoping to burn the calories of the watermelon faster.
My teenager mind refused to see the abundance and glory of Mother Earth reflecting back at me. All I saw was some twisted version of my image.
Shavuot is the festival of first fruit. It’s the beginning of the harvest season. Grain is being collected in the fields. It’s a celebration of receptivity. Receiving the gifts of nature. Receiving the fruit of the labor of agriculture. Receiving wisdom, knowledge, and a connection to something greater than oneself.
What are YOU receiving right now? What fruit is ripening on the trees of your life, ready to be picked and eaten? What source of nourishment is asking to be gathered and made into bread? What wisdom is calling you from the top of your inner mountain, giving you guidelines and clarity for living ethically, in community?
What are some of the aspects of you that you have a harder time receiving? What can you do to be more accepting of yourself?
In the following months of 1992, after I danced hard to burn that watermelon, I was eating less and less, working out harder and harder, and rejecting myself more and more every day.
Seven weeks after Moses liberates the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt, they gather up by Mount Sinai to get things in order – laws, rules, and guidelines must be established. Freedom needs boundaries.
Thou shall not call thyself fat. Or ugly. Or stupid. Seriously!
We are nature herself – going through cycles, creating and dissolving, releasing, emptying, filling up again, and generating abundance and plenty during this season.
We are agriculture – we work the land of life, till the soil, plant the seeds, pluck the unwanted weeds, water, nurture, and produce nourishment. When the time is right, we begin to enjoy the fruit of our hard work.
Shavuot is a pilgrimage holiday – carrying baskets filled with flowers, fruit, and dairy, offering gifts made of the abundant expression of the collaboration between nature and agriculture, going to a holy place to receive a hit of connection to something greater, to receive order and law and religion.
This weekend is Shavuot.
We’re gonna do a little picnic with fruit and cheese – dairy for Andrew and the kids, vegan for me.
I’m also gonna do a little inner pilgrimage. I’m not gonna be super luxurious with this ceremony. Everything is way too busy. But it feels important for me to explore the tradition I come from, and redefine its meaning for myself and for my family. It’s easy for me to do a ritual that is based in the Hindu tradition, or the Celtic tradition. It’s funny how when it comes from where I come from, it feels foreign.
Here’s what I’m gonna do, in case you wanna do this too (and let’s just be super clear here; it’s not about being Jewish, it’s about the season, and the opportunity to make life meaningful, so make yourself comfortable, and let’s dive in):
You don’t need a lot. Go to some place in nature if you can, but if you can’t don’t worry about it. Just carve a sacred space within yourself. Light a candle if you’re indoors. Smudge the area if you want to. Take a few minutes to recall, gather, and remember what is coming to fruition in your life through your hard work and dedication. You can journal, or simply sit and contemplate, with soft awareness of your breath. Make a beautiful basket in your mind’s eye (or in real life), decorate it with flowers, and fill it with all of your recent experiences of fulfillment, accomplishments, and gratitude. Again, you can do it as a journal entry, or a meditation, or a little bit of both. Bring your basket to the holy place within yourself. Offer it up to your life. Sit (or walk around if you’re out in nature) with soft eyes, and allow any insight, guidance, and wisdom to flow through you. It may come to you through words, images, colors, sounds, flavors, scents, sensations, thoughts, or feelings. Be open to receive what you need – sacred teachings of your soul, or simple, practical guidelines for the next phase of your life.
I hope this inspires you to create a meaningful moment of appreciation for yourself and for your life.
Please leave a comment and share: What are two of the main insights you gathered in your ceremony? I would LOVE to hear about your process.
Have a wonderful weekend.