My husband recently stumbled upon a television series that offers a shockingly lurid glimpse into insider-trading and government efforts to nab the felons. The lines between the good-guys and those who want to take over the world is nearly invisible; the dialogue is fast paced, riveting, clever and snarky. Ruthlessness and conniving are the only qualities that receive meritorious attention; sex in exchange for information or advancement is de-rigour. Everyone is beautiful and those who aren’t are cast as boobs, outcasts and losers. Kindness is a honed device, a useful tool when disarming one’s enemy is the desired outcome.
But this show has me awake, feeling soiled and unsettled. The seven weeks following Passover are almost complete, and I’m supposed to be reflecting upon the meaning of Shavuot and receiving our holy Torah. But Hollywood has skewed my hard-fought center and, despite daily prayers and efforts to make this world a better place, those celluloid nights infect my sun-drenched days and I find myself asking, “Am I thin enough?”; “Will my children reject the values of my home because I’m poor?”; “Are my sons-in-law slick enough to provide the good life for my girls and grandchildren?”; “Will everyone I love stay faithful to their marriages?”
“Does any of it really matter?”
Shavuot celebrates kindness. Jewish kindness—chesed—does not refer to superficial acts that make us feel like big shots for a day; chesed is an often painstakingly-developed characteristic designed to envelop our souls and morph part-and-parcel into DNA. Chesed imbues consciousness and does not sport an “endpoint.” It is all about “being”; there are no goalposts on the field.
It occurs to me that it takes a special type of arrogance to expend truckloads of energy in order to “beat the system.” Indeed, one would have to believe himself a near-deity who can create and enforce laws of his own creation. Just thinking about this exhausts me, quite like the aforementioned television program. Maintaining such an acute level of vigilance and distrust doesn’t seem to leave much room for loving relationships, exploring G-d’s bounty and, consequently, growing. Just sayin’ . . . . . .
The holiday of Shavuot is referred to as “the time of the giving of the Torah.” Why isn’t it called “the time of receiving the Torah?” I would surmise that the greatest lessons come from those moments when we give of ourselves and do not wait for reciprocity. Shavuot is a celebration of open-handed, leave-expectations-at-the-door, generosity. We are encouraged to follow the examples of two holy women—Naomi and Ruth—who did not brandish their respective pedigrees but, instead, lived with and loved G-d’s children without referring to a checklist.
Meaning no disrespect to Tinseltown’s rainmakers, it behooves us to remember that we were designed to out-think and out-maneuver the best of them by filling our calendars with activities that bring us closer to one-another, devoid of judgement and condemnation. We are all wealthy heirs of chesed and the legacy we leave behind is incalculable.
New York-born Andrea Simantov is a mother of six who moved to Jerusalem in 1995. She frequently lectures on the complexity and magic of life in Jerusalem and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.