Words from the Rabbi – Shavuot 5783

“With great power, comes great responsibility”
-Spider-man by Stan Lee

Stan Lee was not the first to understand the connection between power and responsibility, but his formulation, first expressed as narration in 1962’s Amazing Fantasy #15, has become the most well-known, and has become known as the ‘Peter Parker Principle’. In many ways, this Principle is very Jewish, and deeply connected to this time of year.

We’ve been on a journey for the last 7 weeks, starting with Pesach and ending this week with Shavuot. It’s a journey marked by daily counting of the Omer, as we reflect on both the physical steps between Egypt and Sinai, as well as the spiritual growth to prepare to receive the Torah. Pesach is the festival of freedom, Shavuot is the festival of responsibility.

Sometimes we think of freedom like a child dreams of a school holiday – time away from being told what to do, freedom from teachers and school work. In Hebrew this is called Chofesh, freedom from burdens and responsibilities. The word is used in the Torah to describe what happens when an Israelite sets their slave free – they emerge Chofshi, without any further obligations. In modern Hebrew the word is used for vacation.

However, the Exodus from Egypt is referred to with another word, Cheirut. We call it Zman Cheiruteinu, the time of our freedom, in our prayers, but the kind of freedom is very different. The famous saying of Moses to Pharaoh, ‘Let My people go!’ is incomplete. The full quote is ‘Let My people go so they may worship Me’ (Ex 9:1). This is a freedom from the burden of slavery but it is not a vacation, but rather a new purpose, the opportunity to devote oneself to that which truly matters.

That’s why Pesach and Shavuot are so intimately related – it’s not freedom from everything, but freedom for a purpose, freedom to serve God in the form of Torah and Mitzvot, commandments. Pesach doesn’t stand alone, it must always point towards accepting our responsibility to make the world a better place. That’s what Shavuot is all about.

This year our Tzedakah group has been working hard to find different ways for us all to engage with the task of tikkun olam, improving the world. Our chosen charity is the Hackney Night Shelter https://www.hwns.org.uk and we’ve already raised more than half our target of £1800. But we know that not everyone has capacity to give tzedakah as much as we would like, and so we’ve been looking into a range of ways to get involved.

If you’d like to just donate money, you can do so on our justgiving page, https://justgiving.com/page/stokey-shul

If social events are more your speed, then we have an exciting Pub Quiz night coming up on the 4th of June at the Leconfield Pub (featuring a round of ‘Talmud or Heavy Metal Quote’ prepared by me). Book your spot here – https://bit.ly/3Ifc5gG

Finally for now, we’re looking for volunteers to help staff the Night Shelter on Sunday evenings. More details will be in the newsletter soon, but I do hope you’ll sign up to help a wonderful local institution and give back to the community.

Freedom is a tremendous power, and with great power, comes great responsibility.