Time to Properly Honor our Holidays – Ken’s Thought of the Week
Editor: Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld, President, American Center for Democracy (ACD)
See the sources for this article and more research in the Additional Reading section
QUOTE OF THE WEEK:
Memorial Day “…When we remember the thousands who were buried ‘with their martial cloaks around them … we feel it is an unfinished work unless a day be set apart annually for its especial attention. We cannot raise monumental shafts and inscribe thereon their many deeds of heroism, but we can keep alive the memory of the debt we owe them by dedicating at least one day in each year to embellishing their humble graves with flowers.”
– Mary Ann Williams, 1866
On the holiday of Shavuot:
“In Megillat Rut (The Book of Ruth), tragedy and
loneliness and isolation are healed by acts of loving-kindness, so have the
isolation of so many of us been healed by acts of loving-kindness… God does
not just make a covenant with us. He has a relationship of chessed with us.
An unconditional love, which is translated into deeds of kindness to us.
The covenant is conditional, but chessed is unconditional.”
– Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks (1948 – 2020) zt”l
Holidays are important to remember and honor. Holidays connect us to our ancestors and their values, ideas, and sacrifices. Religious holidays connect us to G-d, the Torah, and the rule of law. They teach and remind us of the past. We share these historical insights and values with our friends, children, and grandchildren. We recall with pride our heritage, religion, culture, and country.
Shavuot is a great example. It takes place 50 days after Passover and historically reminds us of the conclusion of the harvest from the fields. Moreover, it is also the time we remember our spiritual liberty, derived from receiving the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai. The Ten Commandments are the foundation of the Torah, which revolutionized the rule of law not only for the Jews but also for Western Civilization.
The holiday also commemorates the 40 years of the exodus from Egypt and the date when G‑d gave the Torah to the Jewish people at Mount Sinai. During this holiday, we study the Torah and related works throughout the night. We also read the Book of Ruth, a role model for her loyalty to her Jewish mother-in-law Naomi, her conversion to Judaism, and her role as the great-grandmother of King David. We also study The Ethics of the Fathers (Pirkei Avot), one of 63 tractates of the Mishnah (oral Torah). It is a compilation of common-sense values which underlie key interpersonal relationships.
In Biblical times, every 50 years of Shavuot was further celebrated as the Jubilee year, when slaves would be freed and land would revert to its original owners. This concept significantly impacted American founders and thinkers 3,000 years later, when slaves in America were finally freed after a four-year, bloody civil war.
At the same time, in America, we celebrate Memorial Day. The first national observance, Decoration Day, took place in 1868 to honor the Union soldiers who died in the Civil War of 1861-1865. Mary Ann Williams was credited with originating the holiday in 1866 by placing flowers on the graves of fallen soldiers in Georgia.
Today, many loyal citizens visit the graves and place flags on the graves of our courageous fallen soldiers who died to defend our country. Without the sacrifice of these noble soldiers, we would not be able to enjoy the freedoms we have today. We should all vow to honor the rich traditions of our holidays!