It is no small irony that although Shavuot is probably the least observed and least understood of all major Jewish holidays by American Jews, it is in some ways the most relevant to our lives.
Shavuot, which will be celebrated this coming week, principally commemorates the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people on Mount Sinai. But given the general ignorance among so many U.S. Jews about detailed aspects of their heritage, it's little wonder that the impact of Shavuot remains minimal.
As such, the holiday highlights the ongoing failure to prioritize Jewish education in this country. The result of so many Jews lacking a grounding in what is contained in the Torah is a spiritual gap in the center of the lives of many in our community. The toll of the empty place in the hearts and minds of so many is felt not only in their own existence, but in the inability of the community to engage the emotions and the interests of so many Jews.
The irony is that interest in secular legal affairs is a mainstream focus of so many American Jews. While many of us are fond of quoting the line from Deuteronomy that commands "Justice, justice, shall you pursue," all too many fail to study the source of ethics and law found within the Torah, and which can serve to guide our struggles with many contemporary issues.
This is illustrated by the debate going on within the Conservative movement of Judaism as its Committee on Jewish Law and Standards strove to find a halachic frame of reference for the question of providing a "living wage" for workers. The point is not necessarily to embrace the stands taken by this movement on unionization or the treatment of employees — about which both rabbis and lay persons may differ — but to highlight the value of seeking to understand any modern-day ethical or legal dilemma by approaching it from the Torah's point of view.
Yet if American Jewry continues to raise the bulk of its children without a thorough knowledge of this ultimate source of wisdom, such discussions will have little resonance for them.
With that in mind, Shavuot is an opportune moment for us to judge how well we have been living up to the obligation to transmit the treasures of Jewish life to the next generation. The best way to honor the Torah and its timeless message is to rededicate ourselves to the mission of prioritizing Jewish education in our own lives and the life of our community.