Tonight begins the Jewish holiday of Shavuot. The agricultural significance of Shavuot is that it is the second of three pilgrimage festivals in the cycle of the year.
The historical significance of Shavuot is that it commemorates the revelation of God to the people at Mount Siani, and the covenant — when the Jews agreed to receive and live by the Torah. This was the culmination of a process that began with the Exodus from Egypt, which we celebrate on Passover.
When God freed the Jews from slavery in Egypt, this was not yet complete freedom; they still tasted the bitter herbs of slavery and ate the bread of affliction.
Passover marks the start of a journey into the unknown, represented by the wilderness of the desert, a time when the Jews were no longer slaves, but not yet “free.”
Shavuot is when they attained true freedom
Freedom in the Mind vs Freedom in the Heart
Although they knew in their minds that they were no longer slaves, they still embodied the identity of slaves.
Even when our minds have moved on from a traumatic event, our bodies hold on, to habituated fear patterns long after we are in a place of safety. The fear pattern is controlled by the sympathetic nervous system. This is known as the fight-or-flight response. In sympathetic mode, the body contracts within itself. We pull back and close off to the outside world, to new ideas and insights, new messages, learning new things.
When we are in the contracted state of embodying fear, we are unable to receive. It doesn’t matter if the realm of receiving is the mind, heart, or body. They are all connected. When the body is contracted, the mind is shut off and the heart is frozen.
To release ourselves from the fear body, we must retrain the nervous system. This is not an overnight process; it’s a slow process of building trust and training the physical and subconscious system that the body is safe.
This process unfolded as the Jews traveled through the desert. Through many small miracles, God displayed to the people that he would keep them safe: he gave them manna for food, drew water from rocks, and sheltered them from the elements.
We learn that the words of the Torah should be in our hearts; this means that the heat must be open to receive it.
With each miracle, the people opened up more in their hearts and bodies, so that by the time of the revelation they could hear and see God, and be open to receiving the gift of the Torah.
On Shavuot, the Jews attained freedom in their bodies and in their hearts.