Until Shavuot people didn’t know how to slaughter and prepare the meat in a kosher way. In addition, they had to kosher their pans and utensils. If you have ever helped anyone kosher a kitchen you know it can be a weeklong event. So on Shavuot people turn to milk and milk products with don’t require this type of preparation.
In the “modern world” cheesecake and blintzes are some of the celebratory fare for the day. I love cheesecake, but it doesn’t love me. I am lactose intolerant. This seems like kind of a cosmic joke-one I’m not in on. Maybe G-d wants me to know that the world doesn’t revolve around me. (A little fact I’m already onto, thanks so much.) Maybe it just G-d’s sense of humor… I don’t know. When I think of all those giant glasses of milk my grandmother tried to coax down my throat…and her frustration when I wouldn’t or couldn’t finish them. Sometimes she would put extra cream or sweetened canned milk in them, thinking that would somehow make them more appealing. And although I know she meant well, I have to tell you that making milk milky-ier or more creamy is clearly not the way to go for someone who doesn’t like milk. Maybe she should have added some coffee. In fact, she did let me finish her coffee in her giant cup, lots of milk and sugar when I was a kid sitting in her lap. It was different time, I guess because people would look at me cross-eyed if I offered a child coffee in this day and age.
I saw this as an extreme kindness. Sitting on her aproned lap in her warm and cozy kitchen sipping cooling coffee from a mug that may have been a cereal bowl it was so large, and her coaxing me to see if I could see the flower. A rose was painted into the bottom of her cup. Hmmmmmmm.
The problem of being lactose intolerant, and I use the term “problem” for lack of another, won’t keep me from enjoying Shavuot, or cheesecake for that matter. (I have one in the freezer right now! I take a little pill, well two, and hope for the best. But I digress.) I am happy to have a service to go to and besides being happy to celebrate the giving of the Torah, I will also be able to participate in yizkor service and say the memorial prayers for my family members, including my grandmother.
I think my grandmother gave me something I couldn’t see except in retrospect. She used to take down my hems before the new school year, having me try on dresses in the afore mentioned kitchen; she would rub my frozen feet when I came in and me sit in a strategically placed chair my feet warming in the oven; she made me a farfel stuffing once when it seemed like I just would not survive the cooking smells of waiting for the turkey to be done, and I miss her. Most importantly, she gave me a place in my life that was completely safe. She also gave me clear rules and made her feelings known when she thought I (or anyone else) hadn’t behaved well.
Maybe receiving the Torah is a little like that. We can only really appreciate it in retrospect. I mean besides the fact that we weren’t there, we don’t dwell on who we would have been without it anymore than I had given a lot of thought to who I would have grown up to be without my grandmother’s care and direction. I love her and miss her, but most days I take it for granted. Maybe we fall into a false sense of feeling like it’s all us…especially in culture where we so value independence.
This Thursday we all have a chance to celebrate the giving of the Torah. I suggest that a little meditation on how it impacts our lives, who we have grown up to be, is well overdue. The Rabbi calls it the forgotten Jewish holiday, because people tend to gloss over it. Would you receive a gift without sending a thank you card? If so shame on you. If you can’t come to service, at least give it some thought. Also, call your grandma.