Sign In Forgot Password

Shavuot sermon 5776 – Elizabeth Crossick, Chair


The fridge is full of curd cheese and eggs. It is the ritual of the cheesecake, the time of year my husband takes over the kitchen. I don’t do deserts and I don’t make them either, but he loves them especially the good old cheesecake.

So out comes the little used man-apron and the ceremony of The Making of the Cheesecake. Which is then followed by the Praising of the Cheesecake and finally the Eating of the Cheesecake.

And that, say my family, is that. Shavuot done for another year.

But it is a festival that is so much more than just its food. And it is one that for me, personally has a special meaning, because it was the day, 10 years ago, that my daughter became bat mitzvah and started her adult journey and her own, personal encounters with Judaism.

And there is a parallel in her journey towards maturity, with that of the children of Israel. Shavuot is of course the giving of the laws, the Ten Commandments, to the Israelites. And who by accepting them, became for the first time a community, bound by its rules. The maturing into a People and ultimately a Nation.

The revaluation of Torah, we learn is given to ALL the children of Israel, they received it for themselves and for every generation. In Ex 24, Moses comes down from the Mountain and (Exodus 24.7) “took the record of the covenant and read it aloud to the people. And they said na’aseh v’nishma – (all this) we will do and we will hear”.

It is said that each one of us stood at Mount Sinai and individually reaffirmed our place and our commitment to the individual principles of Judaism. And every year, we do so again on this, the Festival of Shavuot.

To me this encompasses the essence of Judaism, the being part of a community, whilst at the same time remaining an individual. So here we have two fundamental principles working together. On the one hand we have the forging of a People, bound by laws; in essence the growing up of the Hebrews, but on the other, the idea that each one of us makes our individual covenant with God.

That duality contains an important principle. We are a people, a community – which means in some ways the individual subordinating itself to the group; but not at the expense of one’s own conscience, for one has an individual relationship with God as well.

This delicate balance between doing and listening/ thinking draws us back to that quote from Exodus 24. At first encounter it feels back to front. We do and then we listen. Surely we listen first and then do. The principle if you like, of building an Ikea wardrobe – which leaves us no flexibility to build it a different way. Rather it is simply a question of following instructions. This is not the Jewish way, if this were the case, Shul meetings would be wonderfully short. It is in the doing, in the action, that we start to think about what we have done. In doing Tikkun Olam, in social action or in individual small actions, we create the space in which to hear God, to gain insight,or to have our own personal revelation. That ability to create the space for our individual relationship with God within that cacophony of community noise, is essential to our Judaism.

I am reminded of this struggle when I listen to the news, or read the papers especially at this time, when we are all thinking about our relationship with Europe. How, in the barrage of headlines and the statistics bandied around by the Ins and the Outs, can we make sense of it all. Can we create the space to listen to our own individual conscience, to make a decision based on our own ethical values, within the group noise that we are all hearing? How to rise above the – at sometimes petulant – and always shorterm-ism of politicians to make the right decision for each of us as individuals but also for our community both present and future?

At Passover, only seven weeks ago, we commemorated our freedom from slavery. At Shavuot, we celebrate our freedom to be Jews. And with that comes responsibility. As we stand together on Mount Sinai, we think about the consequences of our vote not just for ourselves but for the generations to come. And not just for our community here, but for our Jewish communities all over Europe. As Hillel said “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, then what am I?”

May it not be said of us, that we said – “let them eat cheese-cake”!

Tue, 20 October 2020 2 Cheshvan 5781