Friday, June 6, 2008

Shavuot Musings, or Lack Thereof

Shavuot is coming up on Sunday night. This is the holiday on which we celebrate the Revelation and giving of the Torah at Sinai (I believe in the Revelation; in terms of exactly what was given, I am not touching that on this blog with a ten-foot pole).

Anyway, I have noticed from reading blogs and seeing people's Facebook status updates--hey, I'm a grad student, so I don't always go outside--that some people are talking about readying themselves for Shavuot, preparing to bring their neshamot (souls) up as high as possible for the time when they will receive the Torah again. Even though I am a (religious) rationalist who would rather think of mitzvot than her neshamah, not that the two are mutually exclusive, I find all this talk of musings and preparations for the holiday quite nice.

I also find that it makes me feel guilty. When I think of Shavuot, I think of: 1. where I will eat meals, and how many dishes I have to prepare beforehand for me and/or potlocks; 2. how disgusting my hair is going to be on the second day; 3. how bored and or/hot (temperature-wise)I will probably be by Tuesday afternoon. Sometimes I also think about and get kind of excited for my community's Tikkun Leil Shavuot (staying up all night to study Torah) and a few of the shiurim (lessons) that I have seen on the tentative schedule, so that's good. But then my mind wanders to logistics: Should I go for mincha (afternoon prayers), or wait to go over until dinner and then stay for some shiurim? How late will I be able to stay up? I should really make a donation to the sponsoring group, etc. Not exactly elevated thinking.

I talked about this with my BFF this morning, and she said that it is only natural to feel this way, since that is how our ancestors thought about the holiday, too. Even though we now have modern technology, money, and butcher shops, only really special, high energy people who are not writing dissertations can do both. That reminded me of a d'var Torah I once heard from a woman who used to be yeshivish and married to a yeshivah bochur (full-time Talmud student) and now is not religious like that anymore. She talked about slaving over holiday meals for her husband and his fellow yeshivah bochurim and then having one of them say at her table, "I really enjoy yontif (holidays) because they're so relaxing." She thought, "Yeah, right, for those who have food served to them."

My mom told me that this was an anti-feminist statement when I said something similar in a slightly different context, but I think that the traditional division of labor is not particularly conducive to women having deep thoughts about yontif in the days before. Now that many men in my community help with food preparation and so forth, one possibility is that both parties feel like they have a little more time to reflect. The other possibility is that, now, everyone's head is full of blintzes and logistics (mmmm . . . logistics), and only those who are teaching at the Tikkun are thinking about texts, and it is largely because they are forced to. (Although I realize that some people volunteer for the Tikkun in order to motivate themselves to study texts and think about the holiday, which I think is very admirable).

So, does anyone else feel this way? What do you do about it? (Please don't tell me that I CAN, in fact, wash my hair on yontif. I'm not doing that right now, and it's not the point, anyway).


mama o' the matrices said...

with my life moving blurringly fast right now, I agree: the joy of yontif is uneven. But we do have some tricks.

The Eldest helps me pick out recipes for shabbat/yom tov, and we talk about colors and flavors. On yom tov/shabbat, I have a number of small items that I prepare on the spot, reducing the amount of pre-yontif prep and giving the kids more time in the kitchen with me, talking about ways that the food will give us pleasure.

I know, I know, this makes the food (an effort in preparations) seem to loom larger, but think about this: if I get the family talking and thinking about the food (and my efforts) when they eat, then my contribution isn't invisible. My time in the kitchen gets woven into the time at the shulchan orech (as it were), and we then find ourselves encouraged to savor as we chew.

And if we savor rather than gulp, well, who knows what will happen? I have hopes...

ClooJew said...

I'm not a huge foodie, but the ladies of the house did an awesome job (and slept off most of yom tov, as well...good for them).

As for your initial comment, I consider myself very religious and very spiritual, but, lulei demistafina, I'm not much into "preparations." I believe, and there are sufficient sources to back up this notion, that the deed speaks for itself, be it mitzvah or minhag. I tend to have a very low tolerance (with eyebrows that rise proportionately) for people who talk about these sorts of preparations and about their souls and about their ruchniyus. I'm more of a Nike Jew - just do it.

My preparation for Shavuos consists of taking a nap, which I didn't have time for this year and still managed to stay up all night with nary a cup of coffee, thanks to awesome shiurim and awesome chavrusos.

Also the AC at home broke and it hit 92 degrees in the dining room day two. No joke.

Pierre Sogol said...
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Woodrow/Conservadox said...

The last time I had to eat by myself for most of Shavout, I just went through a few cartons of frozen blintzes. Not exactly a balanced diet, but my feeling is that if you can't chunk all this balanced diet stuff on Shavout you might as well be in Mitzrayim!