By Rabbi Richard F. Address, DMin
Let me get directly to the point. I would like to suggest a new ritual for you to consider.
It will need some adapting to your particular religious tradition (or lack thereof), but that is okay. I can’t do everything!
As we move to the end of May, the Jewish community will celebrate one of its major festivals, Shavuot. The agricultural origins of this ancient festival lie in the fact that it was the gathering of “first fruits.” Along the way, the historical aspect of the giving and receiving of the Torah was added to the festival’s profile.
I am not concerned with those interpretations here. The festival gets less attention (and knowledge) than the other major festivals in our year and pales when compared to the recently observed Passover. Most Jews today associate the holiday with the ceremony of Confirmation, at which teens affirm their allegiance to Jewish tradition and faith. This comes a few years after Bar/Bat Mitzvah, usually at around 16. It is a very important celebration.
Yet, it came to me that there is another way that this festival can be interpreted. The receiving of the Torah implies the gathering of wisdom. Why not create a ceremony in your synagogue, church, mosque, or spiritual gathering place that celebrates the acquisition of wisdom. I am talking about real wisdom. Not book knowledge, but the wisdom that each of us have after living four or five or six or more decades of life. I would bet that you, at 50, 60, or 70 look at things a lot differently than you did at 13, 16, or 36! Why not institutionalize a ceremony that celebrates the gift of life, recognizes that we have lived, and looks forward to many more years of life and wisdom?
Now, lest you think this is all based on fantasy (not that there is anything wrong with that), let me introduce you to the ceremony of Simchat Chochma, which is Hebrew for the celebration or rejoicing of wisdom. Such a ceremony exists and has been celebrated by people in synagogues around North America in recent years. It has been more private than public, and that is why I am suggesting that each religious tradition takes on this idea and shapes it to its own tradition.
The ceremony can involve the use of classic symbols like water, candles, flowers, and fruit. There is no standard ritual yet in operation. The ritual that I am referring to can be found in a book that discusses how congregations can proactively address the longevity revolution before us (To Honor and Respect, URJ Press, URJBooksAndMusic.com). Part of the liturgy used by the woman who celebrated this includes these very wonderful words as prayer: “As today I celebrate my life’s continual unfolding, I am awestruck by the wonder of my being. And so I pray that kindness and compassion may be on my lips, that strength and courage may be with me in my comings and goings, and that I may continue to learn from and to teach those dear to me.”
Let me suggest that the time is right for religious institutions to celebrate the wisdom our generation has gained from the living of our life and to recognize the value of one’s life experience.
I would love to know your reaction to this suggestion and if your religious community would be open to such a new idea.