At its Yom Ha’atzma’ut event this Wednesday evening, the Young Israel of Woodmere will hear former Senator and vice presidential candidate Joseph Lieberman discuss “Reflections on Israel’s 70th: Being a Strong Zionist.”
As part of my personal welcome, it is my honor to briefly review a new book that he recently authored, published by the OU Press and Maggid Books, with readings themed to the upcoming holiday of Shavuot, titled, “With Liberty and Justice: The Fifty-Day Journey from Egypt to Sinai.”
OU’s Jewish Action’s includes this description of this work, linking Shavuot and Pesach:
“Unfortunately, for many Jews, the Pesach Seder is not only the most important Jewish night of the year, it is the only Jewish night of the year. But the Jewish calendar links Pesach with the festival that follows it seven weeks later, Shavuot. This book aims to explore and explain this connection, and to consider how events of the first Pesach eve, when the Jews became a free people, reached their culmination at Mount Sinai, where we received our moral and legal ‘Constitution.’ Fifty short essays take the reader through each day of the Omer, thus linking Pesach to Shavuot and providing a path for those who attend a Seder to continue on and make the spiritual journey to Shavuot.”
Lieberman’s take on this Jewish calendar experience and link between the liberation from slavery with the giving of the Ten Commandments can be seen in the brief statement, “Freedom is not enough.” We have to consider these four short words as a guidepost to a vital theme in world history, and not just a parochial era in our people’s history. Indeed both holidays serve as bookends to a theological drama where one event at the beginning remains incomplete without the giving of the law seven weeks later.
If there is one other sentence that drives this book’s theme for the average Jew it is: “I believe that Shavuot is the most under-appreciated holiday on the Jewish calendar.”
I personally have never read such lines in any other book on this subject but, truth be told, these words bring to us the sad reality that they ring true for us, reflecting the shallowness of our religious observances. The essays in this work should serve as 50 correctives to this situation. Hopefully they will guide readers of all denominations to link the liberty achieved on Pesach with the code of laws that were revealed for all time on Shavuot.
The irony of Lieberman’s visit here themed to the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the modern state of Israel reinforces the sefirah observance that continues a few weeks later with Yom Yerushalayim. Both days fall within the sefirah and give what was historically a sad time on the calendar a new tone of religious and nationalist optimism that, in effect, refines and redefines the course of our people’s history.
We welcome Senator Lieberman to our community and thank him for his teachings that center on “With Liberty and Justice,” words that drew our forefathers to these shores, and words that serve to preserve the observance of our faith in safety for all time to come.
FOR FURTHER STUDY
In following up study on Lieberman’s theme concerning Zionism, may I bring to your attention the recent timely publication of “The Zionist Ideas” by Gil Troy (Jewish Publications Society, 2018), an anthology of essays dealing with the Zionist ideology from various ideological perspectives.
One brief essay featured within this 500 page volume is authored by Esther Jungreis of blessed memory, a long time resident of our community, entitled, “Zionism: A Challenge to Man’s Faith.” Written in 1977, she shares her heartfelt grief over the fate of our people down through history, ending her thoughts with the following sad and haunting observation:
“To have waited 2,000 years, to have suffered the agonies of exile, to have dreamt and hoped, to have been given the land only to reject it. How will Jews in exile answer to future generations when they ask, ‘Where were You’?”
Hopefully, by our continued devotion to our faith and the state of Israel, we will come to witness and experience our liberation, both spiritually and physically.