Recently, my family celebrated the Jewish spring harvest holiday of Shavuot. It’s a little known holiday that most Jews don’t even notice, let alone the non-Jews in our midst. Luckily, my kids attend a school where some Orthodox kids go, so the administration wouldn’t think anything’s amiss when I called in their absence.
On Shavuot, we read the Book of Ruth, eat dairy foods and traditionally stay up all night learning Torah. In my house, the cheesecake was popular, the learning not so much. Within minutes, Eliana and Shaya were asleep on the couch, but Dan, Asher and I stayed up quite a while discussing the content I’d gathered.
Just that morning, I had read a few pages in the lovely, inspiring book I brought back from India, Peace by H.H. Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji. I happened to focus on pages that made very strong points in favor of focusing on the “violence” of poverty and hunger that plague people around the world every day.
Swamiji offered statistics that showed how much effort and land goes into raising two beef cattle vs. how many crops can be grown on the same plot of land – and fed to dozens, rather than a small number of people. If we meat-eaters reduced our meat intake by two-thirds, there would be enough food for the entire planet’s population, he argued.
And if we all ate vegetarian, we’d have more food than we need.
I shared this with my family, not realizing the incredible connection with the Shavuot texts.
So when we transitioned to the Book of Ruth, I saw it all in divine alignment. Of course I happened upon those pages that morning – there is no such thing as coincidence!
In the Book of Ruth, we read about the instructions for leaving a part of your fields for the poor. The peah is the corners of the field that the reapers must leave for “the poor, the needy and the stranger to come and reap for themselves.”
Leket is the grain missed by the reaper’s scythe which he may not go back to get; he must leave it as “gleanings” for the poor and the stranger. Shikchah is forgotten sheaves in the field, which a farmer is forbidden to go back for – they are to be left for the poor, the widow, the orphan and the stranger.
And of course, Ruth is the first convert to Judaism, which is meaningful, the story says, because all Jews were converts of a sort at Mt. Sinai, choosing to accept the gift of Torah.
Every day, we make choices anew. We choose whether to observe something or to ignore it, we choose to help or to turn a blind eye. We choose to go along with the crowds or to carve out our own path. We choose to work hard or not to work at all.
We choose our happiness, and we choose our sadness. And yes, we all choose what tradition to follow and what we believe.
We choose what to eat. We choose what not to eat. And we choose how much to take in, how much to share.
We humans have a hard time regulating ourselves. We beg for stricture so that we can have a framework for our lives, but then we buck up against the same parameters we so longed for.
What is the answer?
Today, choose knowledge and inspiration, choose wisdom and clarity. Ask for guidance. Don’t make the mistake of thinking we are in this life alone.
Choose peace. Choose to recognize another’s suffering all around us, constantly, as we glide by effortlessly in our happiness.
Choose to reignite the flame of passion – for other people and for our work, for our existence, for our families.
The worst sin in my book is taking for granted all the gifts in our lives. We are not burdened with traditions; we are gifted.