Today is the Jewish holiday of Shavuot, also known as the Feast of Weeks or Pentecost.
Shavuot falls 49 days after the second day of Passover. The days are counted in a 7-week ritual known as the Omer. Shavuot, which means “weeks,” celebrates the completion of this counting ritual.
Shavuot also means “oaths.” The holiday celebrates the occasion of God giving the Torah to the Jewish people at Mount Siani after the Exodus from Egypt. That event was described as a wedding between God and the people, in which they swore oaths to each other.
On Shavuot, we renew our acceptance of this gift, effectively renewing our oath.
During services, we read the Ten Commandments.
Spiritual vs Secular Laws
The Ten Commandments — and the others in the Torah — are generally divided into two categories:
- Spiritual Laws: laws that govern the relationship between people and God
- Secular Laws: laws that govern the relationship between people
If we look at the Ten Commandments, we can see that the first five are the spiritual laws between us and God and the second give are the secular laws, governing the relationships between people.
Quick Digression on the 5th Commandment:
If you’re wondering how the 5th commandment, honor thy father and mother, is about our relationship with God, the Talmud explains that there are three partners in the creation of a person: two parents and God.
God gives us our breath, soul, and the facility of our senses.
According to the Kabbalah, the mystical Jewish wisdom tradition, there is no difference between the Spiritual and Secular laws. The spiritual contains the secular and the secular contains the spiritual.
This is the principle of Oneness.
Our relationship with the Divine reflects our relationship with our fellow humans, and our relationship with our fellow humans reflects our relationship with the divine.
Let’s take, as an example, the commandment not to covet what your neighbor has. If you covet, it means you believe that what you have isn’t enough. Your resentment isn’t really toward your neighbor, it’s toward the Divine for not giving you what you see your neighbor has. It reflects a lack of trust that what you’ve been given in life is sufficient to meet your needs right now.
The resentment we feel when we covet closes off our hearts from appreciating the blessings we have received from the Divine. We are unable, in that state, to receive and accept new blessings.
When we are closed off to the Divine, we are closed off to ourselves, and therefore to others.
If we believe that we aren’t supported and cared for, that we suffer from insufficiency of resources, we will be less likely to offer our support to someone in need — whether that support is physical or emotional.
According to Kabbalic wisdom,
All laws are intended to facilitate the flow of desire and gratification between the Divine and creation. This is the flow that sustains all creations and fulfills the divine intent in creating it in the first place.
Our Oath of Acceptance
Life is not purely spiritual; we need to connect with other people. Nor is it purely secular; the spiritual side of life gives us deeper meaning and purpose and guides our compass. (Spiritual is not only about God, so it can be whatever works for your belief system).
The oath we take on this holiday of Shavuot is not merely an oath to “keep the commandments,” but an oath to humanity: to tolerate and embrace others, even when they are different, remembering that everything and everyone is a reflection of the Divine intention and creation.