A D’var Torah on Shavuot

Tags: Divrei Torah, Blog, Federation, Holidays, Leadership

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By Orry Jacobs

The following d’var torah was presented at the Jewish Federation of Cleveland’s Board of Trustees Meeting on May 20, 2015.

This upcoming Shabbos we read Parsha Bamidbar, the first parsha in the Book of Numbers, Bamidbar. This parsha is traditionally read on the Shabbos before Shavuot, which this year begins on the evening of May 23. Fortunately, there is a message (I’m sure more than one) in both this parsha and Shavuot that is relevant for us.

In this week’s parsha, we learn of the mitzvah of counting the Jewish people, taking a census. The Lord commands Moses “Take ye the sum of all the congregation of the children of Israel, by their families, by their fathers’ houses.” In expressing the idea of counting, the Torah uses the expression se-oo-es rosh (Lift up the heads).

The midrash comments that this phrase can either connote the greatest heights or the lowest depths, and it makes the point that every Jew has a special opportunity coupled with a very special responsibility. I would say that the same thing is true of organizations like the Federation, and their leaders – the Federation Board and professional staff. We are so fortunate to have the opportunity to serve the Cleveland Jewish community and Jews around the world, and to be part of an organization and community that takes its responsibility so seriously and makes such an impact locally, nationally, and internationally.

As I mentioned, Shavuot starts Saturday night, celebrating the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people. The Torah uses the language “vayeechan” (And Israel camped at the foot of the mountain). This is the first time that the Torah uses the singular when referring to the Jewish people.  Our sages tell us that the use of the singular word, “vayeechan”, implies the Jewish people were united in purpose like one man with one heart.

What unites us as one people? We have a lot of disagreements and differing opinions on almost any topic. When studying Torah, it always amazes me that there are always multiple opinions about any question that is raised. There is one constant, however, one common denominator that unites the Jewish people, the Torah. One can go into any synagogue or Temple around the world – the prayer book may be somewhat different, the tunes may vary, but the Torah that is read is always the same. The giving of the Torah, the Torah which unites us, is what we celebrate on Shavuot.

Unity is also what I view as one of the major hallmarks of the Jewish Federation of Cleveland. We have represented here Jews from all walks of Jewish religious life, united in fulfilling our responsibilities - the sacred work of serving Jews here and around the world, and improving the world. May we be blessed to continue to work together in unity in this sacred work.

I wish for all of us a meaningful and enjoyable Shabbat and Shavuot!

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