When I am scrolling through cable channels late on a sleepless night, there are some movies that I simply cannot pass by. Whether they’ve just started or the final scene is about to start, I HAVE to watch them.
Some movies fall into this category simply because they are excellent – The Godfather, Shawshank Redemption and Cry Freedom come to mind immediately. I immediately get sucked in by the cinematography, the music, the acting or the message. These movies really make me think. They transport me to some other place and time. They inspire me. They give me something that I can truly appreciate. So, it makes sense that I always stop to watch them when I can.
A second group of movies that I cannot pass by all just make me laugh. Ferris Beuller’s Day Off, Trading Places and History of the World, Part I all fall into this category. I immediately start reciting my favorite lines along with the cast. I understand my attraction to these movies. They distract me from whatever else is going on in life and make me feel better.
My hunch is that the movies I’ve mentioned so far make sense. However, there’s a third category that I’m a little reluctant to mention. You see – some of the movies on my must-watch list are simply God-awful. I considered not listing any of the movies that fall into this category out of shame, but here are three for your consideration: Waterworld, Rambo and Road House. Really.
I’ve thought long and hard about why these movies have a hold on me. At first, I thought it was the “car-crash” phenomenon. Just as I can’t look away from an accident on the side of the road, my eyes are drawn to a horrible movie. There may be some truth to that, but I think there’s something more at play. These films take me back to the time I first saw them. They return me to an earlier stage of my own life regardless of what’s on the screen. I feel like a kid again when I watch these terrible movies.
If you’ve stuck with me so far, you might very well be asking yourself, “What does all of this have to do with Shavuot?”
Well, the Festival of Shavuot has no menorahs. It has no booths, no matzahs and no greggers. As a result, we might flip right by it as we are scrolling through the channels of Jewish life. But that would be a mistake, because Shavuot has all the elements of a “must-watch” movie.
First of all, it has a compelling story. On Shavuot, we celebrate the giving – and receiving! – of the Torah. It defies logic that a collection of stories, laws and customs from centuries ago has been passed down through the generations so that it lives on today in the form of Judaism. While the Torah has been interpreted and reinterpreted many times to ensure that it continues to speak truth in every generation, it is the same text that our ancestors received and studied many centuries ago.
In addition, the Festival of Shavuot can distract us and make us feel better. After all, there’s cheesecake – need I say more? All joking aside, when we take time out of our busy lives to turn off our phones, tune out our outside obligations and focus on our families and our traditions, we are doing ourselves a BIG favor. Whether we participate in a traditional late-night study session – called a “Tikkun” – or pick up a book with a Jewish theme, we are taking a short break from the craziness of our lives. Delicious dairy foods – blintzes, ice cream and more! – are just a bonus.
Finally, the Festival of Shavuot can transport us to a different time and place. We can imagine ourselves as part of the generation that first received the Torah. Or we can imagine ourselves like Ruth (it is customary to read the Book of Ruth on Shavuot). Often considered the first Jew by choice, she declared that she was going to accept God and be part of our people even though it was not the community into which she was born. Or we can try to place ourselves in any other time or place in Jewish history. Sometimes it takes that kind of thought exercise for those of us born in the community to fully appreciate our Jewishness.
So, let me make you an offer that you can’t refuse: come celebrate the giving of the Fifteen, er, Ten Commandments by studying some Torah, by eating some fun foods and by imagining yourself someplace on the long chain of Jewish history. Happy Shavuot!
~ Rabbi Avi Friedman.