Some words in our language take on different meanings when used in secular context than when we apply them in spiritual/religious settings. One such example is “divine”, as in “this taste of chocolate, coffee, pastry (insert your favorite delicacy) is divine, i.e. wonderful or exquisite”. When we use that word in spiritual/religious settings, especially Jewishly, we enter the world of partnership and relationship, reflected in interactions we cherish and value deeply, and translated as moments we appreciate as Divine, i.e. the Presence of God in the interaction.
While a taste treat may be “divine”, what about our relationships? That question is of significance in that the key word of connectivity with God is not “faith or belief” but rather “Brit or Covenant”. It began with our first Ancestor, Abraham, who discovered and cherished God in his life and welcomed the opportunity to move from the familiarity of Ur Kasdim (present day Iraq) to the unknown promise of a Divine future in the Place that God showed him: Canaan. In entering that relationship and partnership, as in the Covenant God made with him, Abraham was setting up, for the future, the understanding that God is present (or can be) in human relationships, and that the function of this world is to find caring, nurturing and mutually supportive relationships in all facets of life. From that moment forward, God would be welcomed in people’s lives as partner to life, with such partnership applied in all manner of interactions with people and through numerous life cycle moments that affirm human partnerships as connectors to partnership with God, i.e. Covenant.
Examples of Covenant abound in Judaism: You welcome a child on day 8 and enter him/her into Covenant with God. You give them a name through which to contextualize their relationship with God and Life, for the rest of their years. At age 13 the child comes into her/his own in accepting responsibility as an adult in partnership with God, with it translating into the ways they grow in relationship with people in their lives, and growing understanding of an impact they can have, for good, in the life of the world. And then comes that magical day when two kindred spirits find each other and join in a marriage ceremony. In Judaism that ceremony has the added impact of being yet another Covenant, the sacred relationship between spouses, as a means of bringing God into the world, through their partnership, coming full circle, as life changes with the birth of the child and welcoming that new life, on Day 8.
Meanwhile, the religious/spiritual cycle of Jewish life is energized by Covenant as well, providing support in the lives of families living their own partnerships as just indicated.
One such Covenant is the launch of the Israelites as, more than family, now a people, with the celebration of Passover and the official exchange of rulers. We now have God, empowering us to live by a mutually determined calendar, accentuating moments, hours, days and seasons of holiness and blessing vs. Pharaoh controlling the hapless lives of slaves.
50 days later comes the holiday we shall celebrate shortly, June 12 and June 13, Shavuot, as we are given the Covenant of Torah, the rules and light by which to live our partnership with God, in the ways we treat God’s world and God’s creation, especially fellow human beings. It is this Covenant that accentuates our freedom and responsibility to choose to enter the partnership with God. It is the gift of Torah that will provide the wherewithal to be good partners in Covenant in all the other personal life cycle moments mentioned before: how we raise our children to be trusting and responsible people, how we kvell/rejoice in the child’s growing into herself/himself, in accepting the Covenant at Bar/Bat Mitzvah, and so forth.
And, it is in the Torah that we are given the Covenant of Time, more accurately, pausing in Time, to access the blessing of being alive and the opportunity to account for how we are doing with all the other Covenants in our journeys. That Covenant with Time is Shabbat, the Eternal Covenant, as described in Exodus, a reminder of the miracle of God creating the physical realm and, in pausing, introducing the meaning of life, to make as many moments in every day, as we can, Kadosh, holy, memorable, treasurable, transcendent, i.e. worthy of God’s having created us.
I look forward to celebrating with you the Covenant that is home to all the Covenants in our system: Shavuot. I look forward to weaving memorable moments with you as we celebrate this holiday together. We will join in this festival on two consecutive mornings: Day one at Diamond Creek Vineyard in Calistoga, starting with a service together, and the reading of the 10 Commandments, followed by the joy of being in the outdoors (as in the original setting of receiving Torah in the wilderness) for picnics and boating and swimming at this beautiful location that Boots Brounstein, proprietor of Diamond Creek, is so kind to share with us. You do not want to miss that day! Then, Day 2, back at CBI, we celebrate with a more complete service, inclusive of our honoring our dead with Yizkor, which accompanies the close of all our major holidays.
I look forward to sharing these times with you, for they are among the many ways we bring Covenant to life, in generating memories we share as community. In so doing, we celebrate God’s Presence in our lives while appreciating the gift of a system that reminds us to grow relationships, whenever and wherever we can, to bring more blessings into our world, and to find increased opportunities for gratitude, for having this world of partnership and Covenant, for making life so special and meaningful.