By Rabbi Berel Wein
A very strange holiday, Shavuot. No redeeming ritual or special observances, and it is over in a day. In Jewish tradition, it is seen more as a commemorative day than a real holiday. It is the anniversary of the revelation at Sinai, the day of the granting of the Torah to Israel.
Now, in our wacky world of non-Jewish Holocaust deniers and Jewish Exodus-from-Egypt deniers, there is precious little room for such a commemorative day. It cannot be "proven" archeologically to have occurred, and where is Mount Sinai located anyway? And in any event, so much of the Torah does not conform to modern sensibilities and politically correct perceptions. So why bother to remember the day of its granting at all?
The problem with all of the above is that such a viewpoint undercuts any reason for Jewish existence, either personal or national. It accuses all our ancestors of being liars or dupes. It negates all of the great Jewish contributions to the world in a general sense and of the Bible and its value system in particular.
It puts us in the uncomfortable position of having perpetrated the greatest con job in the history of humanity.
In short, either Shavuot or nothing.
And in the midst of our current difficulties and angst, it is unthinkable for any Jew to believe that all of this is for nothing.
Shavuot therefore translates itself today as being our great comforter, our rock of strength in the raging sea of hatred, self-doubt and violence that otherwise would engulf us.
The current thrust of the diplomatic offensive against Israel is concentrated on the problem of the "settlements" and the "settlers." As we all well remember, the original root cause of the less-than-spontaneous Arab violence was supposedly Ariel Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount. Somehow, the presence of a Jew on the Temple Mount threatened all of Islam, and especially the Al-Aksa mosque perched thereupon.
When the outside world eventually tired of this canard, the Palestinians advanced Israel's use of "excessive force" to quell the riots that trigger the "excessive force" response. Though the world's diplomats still piously parrot this "excessive force" accusation against Israel, it too has not had the effect that the Palestinians desired.
Arafat's reputation as a peacemaker still lies in tatters, the vast majority of Israelis are no longer seduced by the siren song of an illusory peace, and the Palestinian economy and infrastructure has been ruined by its own actions. So now the focal point of accusation against Israel has changed yet again.
It is now the "settlements" and the "settlers" that are the obstacle to the flourishing of the rose garden of the new Middle East. Of course, the Palestinians less than a year ago refused an offer that would have permanently ended the "settlements" problem.
But let us not be confused by the facts. If only the "settlers" would disappear, then the peace process could resume, and naturally resume with all the previous Israeli concessions taken as the starting point for further new concessions.
It is only the weak of spirit that can subscribe to such a scenario.
Unfortunately, strength of spirit is not found in great abundance in the Jewish world today. And that is where Shavuot comes into the picture.
Shavuot provides a rebirth of spirit and a refreshment of our sense of self and soul. It reminds us of who we are and why we are. It lifts us from the fleeting present into the realm of the eternal.
The sound of the shofar at Sinai echoes in our hearts as we long to hear the sound of that other shofar - the shofar of redemption and rededication. Shavuot is a weapon in our arsenal of faith and of belief in the justice of our cause. It speaks of true peace and morality, of spirituality and holiness. It is our history confirmed and our destiny foretold.
We should exploit the holiday to the fullest for we will need its strength in order to survive and succeed.