Merry Shavuot?

Recently a non Jewish colleague wished me a happy holiday and than surprised me with an apology. She was worried that it might not be appropriate to wish someone a happy Shavuot. Is Shavuot a joyous or sad holiday? Be it a harvest festival or the celebration of the revelation of the Torah at Sinai, Shavuot is clearly a happy holiday. But her apology did leave me thinking. Most of calendar a is filled with they-tried-to-kill-us-and-failed-so-lets-eat holidays.  Maybe for Jews our surviving the never ending cycle of violence is the  definition of a happy holiday. So is Shavuot a merry holiday? 

This question gets spelled out graphically in the Gemara in Shabbat. There we learn:

“And they stood under the mount” ( Exodus 19:17)  Rabbi Avdimi ben Hama ben Hasa said: This [literal reading ‘under’] teaches that the Holy One, blessed be God, overturned the mountain upon them like an [inverted] cask, and said to them,’If you accept the Torah, all is well; if not, there shall be your burial.’ Rabbi Aha ben Jacob observed: This furnishes a strong protest against the Torah [It provides a legitimate excuse for non-observance, since it was forcibly imposed in the first place.] Said Raba, Yet even so, they re-accepted it in the days of Ahashverosh [the King from the Purim story in the book of Esther] , for it is written, “[the Jews] confirmed, and took upon them [etc.]”( Esther 9:27) [i.e.,] they confirmed what they had accepted long before. ( Shabbat 88a)

While the Gemara reframes the acceptance of the additional commandments instituted around the holiday of Purim to be an acceptance of the entirety of the Torah, it starts by framing Shavuot as another violent holiday. In this context Shavuot is not unique in terms of it being a celebration of our near brush with extinction, it is unique that the the assailant here is God God’s self. Is why we get rewarded by eating cheesecake?

Image result for cheesecake MERRY SHAVUOT. Stay safe and have a joyous holiday.


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