Seven weeks after Pesach begins, we encounter the festival of Shavuot. Pesach, as we repeated more than a few times at the seder, is the celebration of our liberation from slavery. With an outstretched hand and a mighty arm God, with the assistance of Moses, brought us out of slavery into freedom. But freedom from slavery is not without its difficulties. Keep in mind that freedom in that ancient context meant that a people who had for generations been in bondage had to understand quickly what it meant to be free men and women, but could not.
For an Israelite, much as she may have longed for freedom, but who knew only slavery, freedom itself had to have been a bit of pickle. From a life in which one had very few decisions to make and very few free choices to one where everything is wide open—that new life is a scary, insecure prospect.
This conundrum is all the more problematic when magnified by the fact that there is now an entire people, a nation of newly freed slaves, that must make all of those many decisions a nation needs to make in order to be a functioning nation.
In short, the Israelites stood on the other side of the Sea free as birds, but without any clue as to how they were going to govern themselves. And so, for a time they wandered in the desert unguided, bereft of the rules required to become a nation constituted by and devoted to God.
Thus, Pesach is an enormous blessing, but in the end only a partial one, only one side of a dialectic required to be a people. Pesach celebrates the end of slavery, but not yet the beginning of an intelligently governed body politic, for they lack laws.
And this is where the festival of Shavuot comes in. By our own counting, Shavuot is seven weeks after our liberation from Egyptian slavery. Shavuot arrives none too soon, I must say. For Shavuot celebrates the giving of the Torah, the document that resolves for those freed slaves their issue of governance. The Torah is our constitution, our laws and judgments that drive us into our future. The Torah is that transformative tool that guides us through how we ought to live, how we ought to embrace freedom, now with a strong moral and spiritual purpose.
And so, the two festivals are inextricably bound up one with the other. From liberation to a nation of laws. We cannot have one without the other, though both are necessary.
As we prepare for the end of Pesach, we look forward to the receiving of the Law, the partner of our liberation.
Rabbi Phil M. Cohen