What colour is the colour of tears? Of a parent’s grief? Of tragedy in our midst? All the philosophical questions come up. As my son said, ‘It’s not normal for a teenage boy to be on life support.’ There are too many murky colours, questions and emotions. I feel old this Shavuot as I see how good people suffer and suffer and suffer. The very best of us, truth be told.
Meanwhile life in Israel goes on. On the radio yesterday I heard Shavuot referred to as the ‘Festival of White’. It’s a festival of wearing white clothes, of little girls running in sparkling white dresses running through the streets, and of eating all types of cheesecakes, the favourite Israeli classic is made from smooth white cheese. Another take on the whiteness of Shavuot is that it’s like Rosh Hashana, as was explained at our Shabbat table by a guest, opening my mind to a completely new perspective on the Festival of White.
Shavuot makes sense as the Festival of Tikkun. We have Tikkun Leil Shavuot, as we learn Torah all night. With Chaim Zeev ben Nicole Elizabeth fighting for his life, Shavuot cannot be just about cheesecake.
We are all praying. Every friend I tell the story to is shocked into praying. And as I pray there are many, many questions with no answers. Life isn’t simple. When we are taught the Torah in our good Jewish day schools, it is taught simply, forgetting to relate what it must have been to actually leave Egypt, to enter a desert with nothing more than faith in Moses and God as their steady companion. They saw plenty of death, destruction and hardship, and somehow they carried on.
Perhaps that’s the biggest lesson of Matan Torah. The giving of the law to a very human, imperfect people who were ‘stiff necked’ with a national hobby of complaining. Why? Because they needed it, they had enough faith to see their need for law and order and faith in one God, and what can be created from it – a utopian society of justice, loving kindness and peace, a healed world – Tikkun Olam. Has it been achieved? Not quite.
Have I achieved this utopian vision of Matan Torah in my own home? No. Not even in my own soul.
This is the tikkun of Shavuot. The audacious challenge to refine ourselves, to rid ourselves of our blemishes. Our ego, jealousy, gossiping, slander, unkindness, evil eyes, dogmatic judgements that disunite our souls, families and communities. To live the Torah authentically we have to adorn white, pure clothes. Get rid of assumptions of what a Jew is, what Torah is and really look at what it is to be an accepting human being first and foremost that creates more smiles in a day than frowns.
No one said it’s easy. Life is clearly not easy. Blessing and living a joyous, appreciative life is harder than the stiff necked, complaining variety. It takes banishing cynicism, as Rachel Fraenkel says, and believing in the greater good of people, no matter what shape or form they may take.
For me it takes the form of being kind at home to my family. Biting my tongue as my son empties his dinner plate half on to the floor as he misses the bin, as another son eats all the peaches in one sitting, or the other drops our stray, adopted, Jerusalem kitten onto the floor. It’s hard work and I don’t always win. Real life is in the nitty gritty small acts of patience and kindness.
Chaim Zeev ben Nicole Elizabeth is a real boy, a very good mate of my son, who liked a good sleep over with pizza, a soccer game on TV, liked to argue about what boys like to argue about and then make up the way boys do with a friendly punch on the shoulder. When we left Johannesburg and moved to Israel it was hard to say goodbye to our friends. It’s even harder now when tragedy strikes. But we are a people of the Book and we by definition believe in and live by miracles.
May we all pray together for the speedy miraculous recovery and healing of Chaim Zeev ben Nicole Elizabeth, and in his merit may we don white clothes internally and externally this Chag HaShavuot as we face the innate fragility of life which we all share.