From freedom to revelation

Published 11:13 am Friday, May 27, 2016

by James Ellenson

This year the festival of Passover was celebrated on April 22, and the festival of the Feast of Weeks or Shavuot (the gentile holiday of Pentecost) will be celebrated on June 11. Our Jewish calendar is based on the time it takes for the moon to rotate around the earth (348 days) as opposed to the lunar calendar, which calculates the time it takes the earth to rotate around the sun (365 days). So as to rectify the two, seven out of every 19 years are leap years wherein we add an extra month.

I realize that this contradicts the celebration by most American Christians of Pentecost having occurred on May 15th, but our reckoning does correspond to the Eastern, Russian and Greek Orthodox Christians who also will celebrate Pentecost when we do. Ask Pope Gregory about the difference.

We are in the midst of counting up to 50, the days between Passover and Shavuot. We are observing Leviticus 23, verses 15 and 16, “And ye shall count unto you from the morrow after the day of rest, from the day that ye brought the sheaf of the weaving; seven weeks shall there be complete; even unto the morrow after the seventh week shall ye number fifty days; and ye shall present a new meal offering unto the Lord.”

I am drawn to this particular counting even more so that I now live in Franklin, and have had the opportunity to really observe the seasons with the planting of corn, soybeans, cotton and the deer hunting in the fall. There is a rhythm of nature which, for whatever reason, I failed to fully appreciate when I was living in Ghent, in Norfolk. I also have to thank my grown daughters, who spent so much of their time hiking, rock climbing, snowboarding and surfing, and have really opened my eyes to the wonders of nature and the majesty of God therein.

The straightforward reading of the text provides for the natural elements and the celebration of the bringing of the first fruits and harvests, but beyond that, Jewish Mysticism teaches that when God created the universe, He contracted himself and ten Emanations of God made their way onto His creation. These are the sparks which comprise the holiness of our physical universe, but more importantly, the spark of the Divine which is in each human being.

The first three Emanations never made it into the physical universe, but with love and kindness, the world was created. It is our job to do Tikkun Olam, to restore the Oneness of God through prayer, obedience and good deed as between our fellow man and our world. We Jews were at the lowest level spiritually when we were freed from Egypt. We had to go through a 50-day process of elevation and purification so that we were worthy to receive the Revelation at Mount Sinai.

We thus, today, work our way through the seven levels of Emanations and the seven sub-variations so that we are worthy once again to celebrate the giving of the Law.

We believe that the Torah has many gradations and can be grasped on many levels, and I have touched on at least two in this brief piece. We also believe that when Moses was on Mount Sinai, God gave Moses an oral explanation which has been transmitted from generation to generation and was finally codified in the Talmud. Thus, when a Jew wants to understand scripture, he must consult the Talmud. It is not something which is just up to various and sundry interpretations.

It is my closing prayer that all of us can work to improve our spirituality during these 50 Days of Counting Up, love our fellow man, and all be worthy to receive the Revelation this coming Shavuot.

James Ellenson, the Frankliner Rebbe (Rabbi of Franklin), is a resident of the City of Franklin, where he works as an assistant public defender. He can be reached at or 244-4445.