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Rabbi's Update 5/24/2023

Dear Friends:

Tomorrow night, Friday and Saturday we celebrate Shavuot. Shavuot is a curious and under-appreciated holiday. While biblically it is one of the three chagim -- pilgrimage festivals -- on a par with Sukkot and Pesach, it seems to fly under the radar of many American Jews -- especially when, as this year, it coincides with Memorial Day weekend.

In the Torah, Shavuot is chag ha-bikkurim, the holiday when we bring our first fruits to the Temple. But in Rabbinic Judaism it became z’man mattan torateinu, the day that the Torah was revealed at Mt. Sinai. The Torah does not tell us that the revelation took place on Shavuot but using the chronology of events in the Torah, the rabbinic tradition put it at the sixth day of Sivan. I will speak more about this during services Friday morning.

It’s a well known tradition to eat dairy foods on Shavuot, especially blintzes and cheesecake. There are a number of reasons adduced for this tradition. One is that subsequent to receiving the Torah, the laws of kashrut became obligatory for our ancestors. Since they had no kosher meat and were hungry, they ate dairy instead. Another reason is to symbolize that Israel is the “land of milk and honey.” Yet another reason is that the gematria, the numeric value, of the word chalav, milk, is 40 -- the same number of days Moses spent on Mt. Sinai waiting to receive the Torah. I have heard that blintzes in particular are eaten because two blintzes placed side by side resemble a Torah scroll.

It’s important to note that eating dairy on Shavuot is a tradition and not a requirement -- although it is fairly widely observed. There are many Orthodox opinions that eating dairy on Shavuot does not override what they believe is the requirement to eat meat on chagim. Those who follow this perspective begin their meal with dairy foods, then clear off the table and eat their meat main course -- since one can eat meat after dairy but not vice versa. Observing this custom means no cheesecake for dessert and therefore I do not recommend it.

For the fourth year we will be participating in the Conservative Movement’s online Tikkun Leil Shavuot, night time Torah study session. Because the program starts at 8 pm, our minyan tomorrow will be for mincha, afternoon service, only. Personally I wish that the program was starting a bit later but participating in movement-wide programs is important and sometimes means that not everything is precisely the way we would like it.

A quick thank you to everyone who worked so hard to make our Fifty-Plus Anniversary program this past Sunday such a success. Look for coverage of the event in the Washington Jewish Week.

Because Friday is the first day of Shavuot the office will be closed and there will be no Rabbi’s Update that morning.

As a reminder, I am having drop-in hours on Thursday afternoons from 2 to 4 at the shul.This week they will be shortened by an hour since Shavuot starts Thursday evening. You do not need to make an appointment -- that would negate the whole point of drop-in hours -- but I’d urge you to check and make sure I am there regardless as sometimes there are unavoidable pastoral or other emergencies which might take me away from the building.

As always, if I can do anything for you or you need to talk, please contact me at or 301-977-0768 rather than through the synagogue office. I am happy to meet you at the synagogue by appointment. I have been spending more time in the synagogue recently but if you want to speak with me it’s best to make an appointment rather than assuming I will be there when you stop by.

Chag Sameach and Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Charles L. Arian

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