“Shavuot and the Torah” by Lauren Shaps


Hey to the Chevra,

This week we were honoured to host special guest speakers Jeanie Milbauer and Manette Mayberg, the founding and current chairs of the JWRP Board of Directors and best known as part of that inspired and inspiring team, the Utah 8, who created the JWRP. They shared their stories and spoke about leadership for the members of Sarah’s Tent, our JWRP alumnae program here in Ottawa.

When Jeanie and Manette spoke about leadership, like many other women, they addressed the topic in the context of relationships. So much of leadership is about our own personal growth, about learning how to be in different types of relationships – especially the challenging ones! How do we work together to pursue a mutual vision, to achieve the goals we share? To me the conversations about group dynamics sounds a lot like the challenges of a good marriage, learning to give and to take, how to work together and, most importantly, how to focus on what is happening, what our spouse brings to the relationship, their strengths, rather than dwelling on the weaknesses and disappointments.

We are just a few days away from Shavuot, which begins Saturday evening and ends Monday night. Shavuot is a neglected holiday. It doesn't have the special trimmings we associate with other holidays throughout the year. Shavuot has one symbol, the Torah. It speaks to G-d's giving and our acceptance of the Torah, soon after the exodus from Egypt in the year 1312 BCE. The Jewish people stood at Mount Sinai and experienced the most profound encounter with G-d. The Sages speak of the revelation at Mount Sinai as a marriage between G-d and the Jewish people. The Midrash describes the mountain in the midst of the barren desert coming alive with flowers and greenery in honour of this special event. The mountain was like a chupah and the commitment between us and the Almighty is meant for all eternity.

There are many metaphors we use to attempt to understand a smidgeon of our relationship with our Creator. We speak of Him as "our Father," denoting a relationship of unconditional love. We call Him "our King," denoting a relationship that has rules, expectations, justice and judgment. We mention the "Shechinah," a feminine word, referring to the nurturing, enveloping Divine Presence. Perhaps most unexpected is how the Torah refers to the relationship between G-d and the Jewish people as one that parallels the love and commitment between husband and wife.

What does that mean in practical terms? Rabbi Shimon Apisdorf (formerly of Baltimore, Md., now of Jerusalem) explains that marriages work best when we accept our spouses as they are and give to them in ways that are meaningful to them. Similarly, if we want to have a relationship with our Creator, we must spend time getting to know Him and reflecting on what He wants from us. In a marriage, every moment, every action, every conversation can bring us closer together or push us further apart. So, too, with Hashem it is not enough to go through the motions. We have to be committed to the relationship and our actions should reflect that commitment.

Rabbi Apisdorf explains that G-d isn't some micro-managing, obsessive, control freak trying to rule over every detail of our lives. G-d is our all-knowing, all-loving, Creator and Sustainer. The Almighty has a crystal clear understanding of what we need to find meaning and fulfillment in our lives. He knows how we can have healthy, connected relationships, achieve a sense of profound spirituality, and comprehend that there is more to life than we can ever conceptualize. G-d gave us the guidebook and called it the Torah.

Shavuot is the anniversary of that momentous day, when we stood at the mountain. Our minds were clear and our hearts were open. We made an eternal commitment to each other. He would be our G-d and we would be His people. 3,300 years have gone by and a lot of water under the bridge. But it's never too late to revitalize our relationship. We can open the book and immerse ourselves in its teachings. In doing so, we will fill ourselves with the most profound wisdom for life and we will create an opportunity for a most exalted relationship with the Almighty.

As Manette and Jeanie made clear, the ability to accomplish noble goals depends on our ability to make and sustain relationships. Whether you’re part of the Utah 8 or your local organization, as a leader, a volunteer, at work, at home, in our marriages and with the Almighty, the Torah gives us the tools to actualize our enormous potential. When we work on ourselves to develop the ability to join with others, then together we can do amazing things – just look at the Utah 8! Their vision, hard work, determination and attention to relationships is changing the world, one relationship at a time.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameyach,

Lauren Shaps



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