The greening of Shavuot

The greening of Shavuot

Recalling nature’s fury naturally leads to considering nature’s bounty.

Shavuot is only 11 days away. It has several designations, including the one given by the Torah itself – the Festival of First Fruits (Chag Habikurim). Among the popular Shavuot traditions is decorating our homes and synagogues with colorful flowers, blooming plants, and leafy branches and boughs.

Shavuot also has a designation given to it by the rabbis, based on the chronology of the Exodus: the time of the giving of the Torah (Z’man Matan Torateinu). Another popular Shavuot tradition is the spending all night in textual study.

The two designations and their attendant traditions highlight the two rootings of Judaism: in nature and in law.

We spend much time on the “religious,” legal side of Judaism and too little on its other side, its “natural,” environmental side. Yet the two sides are intertwined, because Jewish law, starting with the Torah, is abounding in laws mandating protection of the environment, from prohibiting all forms of pollution (air, water, noise, even odor and sight pollution) to extending its protection from the tiniest mustard seed to the tallest oak tree, and everything that grows in between.

This Shavuot, spend the night studying Torah, get out in the morning and smell the roses, and then ask yourselves this: What would the world be like if there were no roses to smell?

Finally, sit down to a festive dairy meal (another Shavuot tradition) and ask everyone at the table to answer that question, and to share their thoughts on what we all can do to observe the Torah’s mandate to preserve the world around us in all its natural glory.