Our most neglected festival is Shavu'ot, which is a shame because it is such a lovely holiday with such wonderful meaning. Originally, it celebrated the harvest of the first fruits, and still today in parts of Israel there is pageantry and abundance that translates ancient offerings into modern idioms.
As our economy first became less agricultural and then developed outside the Land, Shavu'ot evolved into the celebration of the giving of the Torah. Indeed, counting days deliberately from the Exodus to Sinai, it is possible to conclude that the Ten Commandments were revealed on this very day. As such, we observe Shavu'ot as a day of learning - or, actually, as a night of learning. The custom of Tikkun Leil Shavu'ot is a response to the notion that the Israelites had to be roused from their sleep to receive Torah, so we stay up to show we are prepared to receive Torah anew. As long as we are up, we study.
This year, our study will include sections of The Observant Life. The Rabbinical Assembly's newest publication addresses the intersection of Torah and the life of the Jew in almost every imaginable realm - ritual, ethical and just living. Copies of this large volume are available through on-line sellers, and it can also be downloaded from Amazon as a Kindle book, in which format it weighs considerably less.
And that tidbit of publishing options brings us to the next question of evolution we will face as a people and as a congregation. Just as the first-fruit offerings preserve the essence of the Biblical mandate but are expressed in contemporary ways, the revelation of Torah - an unmitigated oral-aural experience - has been transformed into a written and then printed experience. That which we sanctify (the Torah scroll) is actually technology meant to make memory available beyond its life span. In the process, the scroll itself has become sacred, taking on qualities of revelation itself.
We have other ways to preserve our learning today, including digitally. What once required rooms filled with book shelves now can be contained on a memory card as small as your thumbnail. Using that technology on Shabbat and holidays presents conflicting priorities, and there will come a time to address them. For the time being, our study on Shavu'ot (and Shabbatot) will be limited to hard copies.
However, as our library is expanded and restored, thanks to the persistence and generosity of the Schonberger family, new and forward thinking must prevail. You will find greater opportunity to learn, but many fewer books in print. We are culling our collection and donating dated and long-neglected titles to where they will be used. Our intention is to make our library a dedicated resource for Jewish information and learning for all ages using available technology. It promises to be very exciting.
This evolution will mean that a request we have always made will now be enforced. Please do not bring collections of Jewish books to the synagogue - not old siddurim, not unwanted textbooks, not former bestsellers, not collections from down-sized living quarters. We have neither storage nor disposal capabilities; I will be glad to advise you on how to respectfully redistribute or retire these volumes.
Let the renewal of revelation on Shavu'ot serve as a reminder that "the old shall be made new and the new shall be made old," a constant cycle that has kept learning Torah central to our people!