Seasons of the Moon Some three and a half thousand years ago, a little-known Middle Eastern people gathered around a small mountain in a trackless wilderness and underwent an experience that changed the history of the world.

For the first time since the beginning of the universe, the Creator spoke to an entire nation. The nation was called Israel. The mountain was called Sinai. At Sinai, God gave the Jewish people the Torah, the mystical blueprint of the Creation.

We tend to think of the Jewish festivals as remembrances of critical events in Jewish history and that these events recede further into the past every year. This is not so. Time is circular. Every year we revisit the same place in time, the same reality. Every Pesach or Shavuot or Sukkot we revisit the original event. We do not merely remember what took place on these days, we reexperience them. The word for "festival" in Hebrew is mo'ed. Mo'ed means "an appointed time and place of meeting." Every year we return to that same meeting place in time, be it Pesach, Shavuot, or Sukkot. Every year, through the mitzvot of the day, we return to that same spiritual landscape.

There's something very unusual, however, about the landscape of Shavuot. It's a meeting place devoid of distinguishing features. It is an empty landscape. A desert. Our other meetings with the Creator all have much more visible scenery. On Pesach we experience the spiritual vista of matza, the Seder, the four cups of wine, "Ma Nishtana..." On Sukkot we return to the landscape of the four species and the sukkah. Shavuot, however, has no single identifying leitmotif, no recognizable landmark in its scenery.


At the beginning of the book of Bereishit it says "yom hashishi - the sixth day." When speaking of the other days of Creation, the Torah does not use the definite article the. It says "second day," "third day," etc. Translators add the pronoun "the" to make the English more idiomatic, but in Hebrew only the sixth day is referred to as "the sixth day." Why?

The addition of the word the teaches us that on that first sixth day, at the very moment of the completion of the physical world, God decreed that the universe would remain in a state of flux and impermanence until the Jewish people accepted the Torah at Sinai. Only at that moment would the Creation finally be complete. And that was to be on another "sixth day." The sixth day of Sivan - Shavuot - the day of the giving of the Torah.

Shavuot is the day on which the landscape of existence becomes whole. When God gave the Torah to the Jewish people, the last piece in the jigsaw puzzle of Creation fell into place. Instantly all the lines between the separate pieces of the jigsaw of existence vanished, revealing a complete and perfect whole.

The landscape of Shavuot looks empty because it contains everything. We can only determine features in a landscape because we recognize one thing as being separate from another. It is only the difference between things that allows us to see things at all. If we were to look at everything, we would see nothing.

Shavuot is the empty landscape that is full with all of Creation.

In the Kedusha of the Mussaf prayer on Shabbat and the festivals, we echo the language of the angels. They say, "His glory fills the world." Then in the following line they ask one another, "Where is the place of His glory?" If His glory fills the world, how can the angels ask, "Where is His glory?" Nothing is more visible than something that fills the world, isn't it?

When something fills the whole world, when it fills all of reality - you can't see it anymore. The ministering angels have to ask "Where is His glory?" precisely because it "fills the whole world."

Similarly, one of God's Names is HaMakom, literally, "The Place." God is the place of the world. God does not exist in the world - the world exists in God. He is the place of the world. The reason we cannot see God is not because He is invisible, but because He is too visible. There is no place that He is not. For if He was not there, that place could not exist. He is the place of the world - and thus He cannot be seen.

Although we celebrate Shavuot on the sixth of Sivan as the Jewish people did in the desert, Shavuot, unlike the other festivals, has no real fixed day. What determines its position is that it has to be fifty days after the night of the Seder, of the Exodus. In ancient times, when the New Moon was sanctified by sighting, the months of both Iyar and Sivan could either be twenty-nine or thirty days long. Consequently, Shavuot could fall on either the fifth, the sixth, or the seventh of Sivan. Hence, Shavuot has no fixed position in the calendar. As a festival, its temporal identity is hidden. It has no specific day. Its identity in time is "the fiftieth day after the Exodus." The number fifty represents something that is beyond number, something that cannot be counted in this world. As is known, the number seven represents this world. Seven times seven - forty-nine - is the maximum extent of this world. Nothing can extend further than the thing multiplied by itself. Thus we have no mitzva to count this day, because it cannot be counted.

In Hebrew, numbers are written as letters. The number fifty can be written as chaf and lamed, which spells the word kol. Kol means "all." Shavuot is the day of "all." And when you look at all, you can see nothing at all.

For Shavuot is the empty landscape that is full with all of Creation.

The essence of a thing is its center.

The center is the point that contains the thing itself. Every extension from the center is really just an extension of that essential reality, no more than an expression of what lies at the center. The true center has no expansion. Thus the center has no dimension, no size. Everything flows from it, but it itself has no dimension, no expansion into space or time. The festival that is the center of the Jewish year is Shavuot. Shavuot is the central point between the two extremities of Pesach and Sukkot. The Torah mandates Pesach for seven days and Sukkot for eight. They expand into time. However, because Shavuot is the center, it can have no temporal expansion. Thus we celebrate Shavuot for one day - and one day only. (Even though a day has a degree of expansion when looked at as twenty-four hours, the festivals cannot be less than one day, and thus their minimum existence is one day.)

The center is the place that can have no expansion. It contains everything, but you cannot see it.

Shavuot is the empty landscape that is full with all Creation.

it seemed that out of the world
i had fallen, into a sea of holes
which lashed against
a melting shore of faith
they threw me a ring of cork
and I thought
another hole
in a sea of holes
a straw to a drowning man
there is no life preserver
there is no life
there is no
there is

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