Freedom is only part of the story and half of the truth. Freedom is but the negative aspect of the whole phenomenon whose positive aspect is responsibleness. In fact, freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibleness. That is why I recommend that the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast of the United States be supplemented by a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast.
---excerpt from Man’s Search for Meaning by Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl
As we begin the process of counting the Omer toward Shavuot, it’s worth remembering that we have our own temporal version of Frankl’s vision. I wonder whether this was in the back of his mind when he spoke of the desire for a complementary structure to Lady Liberty. In the same way that we have a Festival of Freedom in Pesach, we have a Festival of Revelation -- representing the Responsibilty that comes with Freedom -- in Shavuot.
It was not always thus.
The Torah says nothing about the connection between the Feast of Weeks and the Revelation at Sinai; rather Rabbinic commentators much later supply the historical connection between the two events. While Biblical Israel needed an agricultural celebration for the harvests of its agrarian economy, it seems appropriate that as the Rabbinic era began and more of the Jewish or Judean people became urban, that a historical dimension would be more meaningful. Thus was the feast of freedom connected to revelation at Sinai.
When the Zionist project of the State of Israel was developing in the early 20th century and the Kibbutz and Moshav movements tried to consciously recreate agricultural values, there was a resurgence of liturgical secular creativity including musical pageants and celebrations for Shavuot renewing it as a modern harvest festival.
For those of us diaspora, primarily urban Jews, we tend to still be inspired by the historical connection made by the rabbis and the addition made by the kabbalists of Tzfat in the 16th century. Building on a midrash that we ancient Israelites almost overslept the revelation, they developed an all night session of Torah study, a Tikkun, to ‘atone’ for the sin of our ancient ancestors. Traditionally one is supposed to study all night and pray early in the morning, a Hashkama minyan (a ‘wake-up’ service) to atone for that ancient sleepy-headed misstep. Caffeine is normally ubiquitous in such settings.
On Tuesday night, June 3rd at AJ, prior to the beginning of the holiday at 7:45 p.m., Adath Jeshurun, Keneseth Israel and Temple Shalom will jointly sponsor Revelation 2.0: Dairy Domain with a pre-holiday film talk (Cinematic Sinai) including clips from films with Biblical themes, followed by a service, a light dairy meal from Cafe Fraiche and teachings from Rabbis Miles, Wolk, Metzger, and Slosberg on topics ranging from the culinary to Star Trek, from the Mekhilta to the Mishna Brura. Musical interludes will be provided by Cantor Hordes and myself.
There has always been a messianic connotation to the late night study sessions, whether they last until dawn or until midnight. If we can only make it all night, maybe the Messiah will come.
Speaking of the realization of an abstract hope in material form, I was startled to find that Viktor Frankl’s vision, with which I began, has a Foundation committed to its realization. There is a project called The Statue of Responsibility Foundation which, in 2013 was taken over by the State of Utah who host the artist, Gary Lee Price, who designed a statue of just such a monument to be built in one of 5 potential host cities: Long Beach, San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco (California) or Seattle (Washington).
The Foundation intends to incorporate following elements of the Statue of Liberty into the Statue of Responsibility: Erected on an island or water front location; Total height 305 feet above ground level (same as the Statue of Liberty); Internal access to observation deck on top of monument; Located in the harbor of a major city; The property will eventually be offered as a national park.
As we prepare for Shavuot 49 days after constructing our Seders of Freedom, let’s all use that same creativity to build own temporal sculpture of responsibility and write the new code for Revelation 2.0: Dairy Domain.