Rabbi's Corner for Shavuot: Children as Guarantors
Shavuot, along with Passover and Sukkot, are the shalosh regalim – the three Pilgrimage Festivals of Jewish tradition. The Torah speaks of it as an agricultural festival, calling it chag habikkurim – theFestival of First Fruits. However, the rabbis of early Jewish tradition identified it with zeman matan torateynu - The Time of the giving of our Torah.
One of my favorite midrashim imagines God being reluctant to present this gift of Torah unless it would truly be appreciated by its recipients:
At Sinai, when the Jewish people were ready to receive the Torah, God said to them, “Am I supposed to give you the Torah without any security? Bring some good guarantors that you will keep it properly, and then I will give it to you.”
They said: “Our ancestors will be our guarantors.” God said: “They themselves need a guarantor!” […]
They said: “Our prophets will be our guarantors.” God said: I have complaints against them, too […]”
They said: “Then our children will be our guarantors.” God said: “Now, those are good guarantors!” (Shir Hashirim Rabbah 4:1)
Have you ever wondered why the midrash tells this story? Certainly, our ancestors or the prophets could be equally powerful in this important role. Why children? I have seen it throughout my career, and I see it now more than ever as the Executive Director at Camp Laurelwood where we bring children from all over the region together for amazing summer experiences and year-round programs. All the research and evidence tells us that our early engagement breeds a lifetime of Jewish commitment and continuity. It is why our community invests so heavily in Jewish youth experiences like religious education in synagogues, teen youth groups, and summer camps like those at the JCC and at Camp Laurelwood.
Aside from delicious dairy desserts like cheesecake, Shavuot doesn’t have the natural appeal of the Passover Seder or the abundance of presents like Hanukkah. Because of that, it is often a holiday that is less widely observed by Jewish children and families. But, I would argue that this holiday commemorating the receiving of the Torah at Sinai should be near the top of our priority list. It reminds us as a community that receiving the Torah is not about our past or our present. Instead, it is about the Jewish future that we will build with our youth. Children are certainly the best guarantors we can have! And, we are lucky to have an abundance of places in our community where that most sacred work is happening every day.