Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Shavuot Is The Original GREEN Holiday

One of the customs associated with Shavuot is decorating the synagogue with branches and leaves. I remember when I was a child my father applied this custom in our home, adorning framed artwork with branched leaves during the two-day holiday. There are several reasons we do this: among the holiday’s many names are Yom ha-Bikkurim – the day of the first fruits, and Hag ha-Katsir – the harvest holiday. Some Biblical commentaries add an additional twist to this custom. Since another name for Shavuot is Zman Matan Tora'teinu – the time we received the Torah (actually the 10 commandments) – it’s our way of remembering that the Torah was given to Moshe on Mount Sinai, a mountain with greenery. Another explanation is that baby Moses was hidden among the river reeds and we recall the way he was saved by using greenery for decoration.

A more relevant 21st century reason is that Shavuot was the original GREEN holiday. We read about our ecology-minded ancestors every year in the Book of Ruth. It is Ruth’s idea to glean the leftovers. One of Boaz’s servants explains to Boaz that Ruth is the Moabite woman who returned with Naomi and requested: “I pray you, let me glean and gather after the reapers among the sheaves." While the story then revolves around Boaz’s kindness to Ruth, beyond the message of tzedaka and helping one’s kinsmen, there is another lesson to be learned. Are the leftovers in the field Grade B harvest? Not at all! They are simply grain that has not been collected during harvest time. Both Ruth and Boaz understand that the grain should not go to waste.

Can we create a contemporary custom for this holiday? Absolutely. Just look to the Jewish Community Day School of Rhode Island (JCDS). When we first came to Providence this year I read about an edible garden using a mixture of store bought and composted soil being planted at this school under the supervision of fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Jamie Woods. In an article published by the Jewish Voice and Herald, Mrs. Woods explained that “Judaism teaches us to be shomrei adama, guardians of the earth.” Mrs. Woods continued by elaborating on a very important Jewish law: “Bal tash’hit, which means not to destroy, is the concept that teaches us not to be wasteful, but to protect our natural resources. The establishment of an edible school garden has been a vision of mine for more than a decade…With the help of a dedicated garden team made up of teachers, parents and community members, the JCDS edible garden will become a reality this spring.”

What perfect timing for Shavuot – the original Bal tash’hit holiday. Planting a garden in the Fall so that students will harvest its produce in the Spring, making sure nothing goes to waste. Ruth and Boaz would be proud. It’s something for all of us to think about come next year. In the meantime, this year plant the seeds of this idea by discussing it with your students so that they will be ready to take part in a new Shavuot custom. As for Mrs. Woods and the JCDS, all I can say is Kol Ha’Kavod and Todah Rabah.

See you soon with more existing customs and new custom ideas.In the meantime, don’t forget to take advantage of this exclusive offer for Tami Lehman-Wilzig Kids Books readers. Go to Kar-Ben Publishing’s online bookstore and get 10% off your next order. Use coupon code TAMI when checking out. Offer expires August 10, 2009. One use per customer. Offer not valid with any other discounts.

Chag Sameach

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