Friday, May 25, 2012

How Memorial Day Intersects with Shavuot

How Memorial Day Intersects with Shavuot
Commentary by Sanford D. Horn
May 25, 2012

This Memorial Day weekend, as the United States prepares to trot out grills, picnic baskets, baseball gloves, and swim suits for unofficial advent of summer, there is an interesting religious intersection in the Jewish community with the observance of the holiday of Shavuot.

Originally known as Decoration Day, Memorial Day, officially proclaimed on May 5, 1868 by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, was first observed on May 30 of that year as a day of remembrance of those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.

This is a solemn and sacred time not just for veterans who lost comrades in arms or the families of the fallen but for ALL freedom-loving Americans to take time from their activities and remember why and how the United States is the freest nation on earth.

Take time to remember how the right to a free press, free speech, free assembly and the freedom to worship as we choose came about and has been defended time and time again – against the British in the Revolutionary War (1775-83) and the War of 1812; against Mexico (1845-48); against Spain in 1898, during World War I (1917-19), World War II (1941-45), during the Korean War (1950-53), the war in Vietnam (1954-75), the Gulf War (1990-91) and the continuing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Brave men and women from various ethnic backgrounds and religions have donned the uniform of the United States only to make the ultimate sacrifice defending the American way of life, the Constitution of the United States, the law of the land, which has stood the test of time since ratification in 1791.

As to the connection between Memorial Day and Shavuot, for the uninitiated, Shavuot literally means weeks and is the culmination of a seven week period beginning during Passover.

Fifty days following the first day of Passover comes the observance of “the single most important event in Jewish history” ( – receiving the Torah by the Jewish people. The Jewish people – those who brought monotheism to the world, the Ten Commandments and the Torah – the law of the Jewish people wherever in the world they may reside.

The key here is the receipt of the Torah. It is one thing to be given something; it is something else entirely to receive it.

This is also a solemn and sacred time where the study of Torah is commanded to be undertaken throughout the night leading into the morning prayers on Shavuot morning where included is the reading of the Biblical Book of Ruth.

But it begs the question, why wait seven weeks to give the Jewish people the gift of the Torah? Why not once they found safety upon crossing the Red Sea escaping Egypt’s Pharaoh? To ensure that the recipients of such a gift were in the right frame of mind and spirit to accept such a responsibility.

It is customary to recite the Yizkor prayer for the departed on Shavuot morning as well, which this year on the Hebrew calendar is Monday, May 28, coincidentally coinciding with Memorial Day.

May they both be meaningful.

Sanford D. Horn is a writer and educator living in Westfield, IN.

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