So I went to the Tikkun Leil Shavuot at my temple tonight. I found out when I got home that the loaner kippah I wore is WAY too big for my head – ack. But that’s vanity, and minor anyway.
The lessons were interesting. First, of course, we studied the giving of Torah – and the 10 “Commandments,” which (we counted) are more like 17 declarative statements and four promises, depending on whether you count each separate “covet” commandment as a new commandment, but anyway. That part of the lesson dealt with two things – what are the declarations? and what is this thing about Moses going back and forth between the people and G-d?
The first part I don’t think I need to go into detail about, partly because we weren’t allowed to take notes and my memory is not wonderful. The upshot here included a fable that the rabbi told about Moses having to justify why humans needed the Torah and angels did not. It was pretty good, actually. I wish I had a copy.
The second part had several interpretations: Moses needed to have power over the people to be an effective leader; G-d only wanted to deal with Moses; Moses was acting as a buffer/ambassador between G-d and the people much as the Americans were acting as diplomatic go-betweens at the Camp David talks between Egypt and Israel; but the one the rabbi presented us with was interesting. Here it is:
We only pray if we’re actually speaking – whether under our breath or not doesn’t matter. Our mouths have to move for it to be prayer. It has to be deliberate action. What we think is between ourselves and ourselves – our own stuff, in our own heads. It belongs to us and it doesn’t have consequences until and unless we act upon it. Essentially, by making Moses a go-between, G-d was saying “Yeah, you all know I could read your minds – but I won’t. You get the privacy of your own skulls and minds.”
I REALLY like that interpretation, and I said so. The way I was raised? G-d hears everything you think, too.
Another point of the lesson was – human beings are not perfect. We are not angels. And we are not expected to be angels. We are expected to do our best and be honest about it.
Then we got into an interesting Babylonian Talmud reading. I’m not sure how to name it (because I can’t find what I thought was the name of the tractate it’s from) but apparently it’s Shabbath 33b through 34a. This tractate is long, and I’ll come back to it in future posts I’m sure, but the upshot is: two rabbis, a father (who spoke against Rome) and a son, paid for it for 13 years of being in hiding from the Roman emperor, who had sentenced the father to death. Their being in hiding is a little weird, and I’ll talk about that in depth in another post after I’ve slept on this, but when they emerged, they were furious that the regular people were not doing what they had been doing for the last decade-plus: studying Torah. It took a while for them to be convinced that it was okay that not everyone was studying Torah in the depth that they had been (because they were in hiding – what else was there to do?). They were judgmental and self-righteous until they realized that they had judged unfairly – and it took a while.
Now the interesting thing here is that these were tied back to the original Torah study, which I guess is the point. Yes, study Torah – but yes, do the real work of life, too. One of the minyan present talked about a poster he’d seen in Israel which directly challenged the Orthodox haredi (who rarely have jobs outside of Torah study, apparently) that listed all the important rabbis and their worldly professions (vintner, doctor, cobbler, etc.), making the point that they were not just rabbis – they did their Torah study in their spare time.
After the study was over, I got to chat with E, one of the other gentlemen there, who is also converting. He encouraged me to come to daytime services when there were going to be a lot more people – and he cautioned me that when and if I do, to be sure to borrow one of the tallitot that the temple provides for people to wear during services, because that’s expected. He also said that he couldn’t find a non-Orthodox mikveh anywhere in this area, which makes me sad and stressed, but that he wasn’t in a hurry to take his dip, either. I am, but that’s me.
When I first got there, I introduced myself to the rabbi and the one other person who was there, and said “I hope you don’t mind, but I’m borrowing one of your kippot.” He said “Eh. Take it home, it’s fine.” So I did. And I felt conspicuous and completely right at the same time.
I like this temple. I hope that the rabbi and I click as well as we seem to have, tonight, when I talk to him on Tuesday.