In Tales of Hasidim, by Martin Buber there is a teaching I thought I would like to consider this week: The Rabbi of Kotzk was asked: “Why is Shavuot called ‘the time the Torah was given’ rather than the time we received the Torah?” He answered: “The giving took place on one day, but the receiving takes place at all times.”
Shavuot has many symbols – one I particularly love is of Torah as the Ketubah between Am Yisroel and God. AKetubah, as we will learn next week, is an essential element of a Jewish wedding – a covenant of obligation, a brit. I often say to couples I am meeting, “Remember you are getting married, not wedding’ed.” Just as Torah was given on one day (the wedding), receiving Torah is like being married – hopefully as the Rabbi suggested, in an everyday blessing.
And then I found this statement by Rabbi Eli Freedman:The Torah is like the geometric shape of a fractal. Fractals have a defined area, but an infinite perimeter. I love the concept of fractals – even as I could never actually pass a Physics class, the concepts were – and are – to me, poetry and Torah rolled into one astounding concept.
Torah, like fractals, may have a defined area, but also has an infinite perimeter, and infinitely gives to those looking to endlessly receive her wisdom.
What are fractals? Imagine an extended curve or some kind of geometric figure, and then imagine each single part having the same character as the whole. This is a fractal. While theoretically fascinating, fractals also have practical usefulness; fractals are useful in creating models of physical criteria (such as eroded coastlines or snowflakes) in which similar patterns recur over and over in progressively smaller and smaller scales.
We have a custom during Shavuot that predates the word/concept fractal, but that in many ways symbolizes fractal imagery, and that is Shavuoslekh (little Shavuot) or roiselekh (little roses) – Jewish papercuts. Many of us may remember cutting out intricate patterns out of folded paper that then miraculously opened up into snowflakes. Shavuoslekh, or roiselekh, are based on the same principle of creating models of fractals. This folk art form was found in Eastern Europe, in Poland, Lithuania and Russia. Today Jewish papercutting is an art form most often seen in Ketubot. A full circle, cut, as it were, into an image of infinite promise.
Roses were an image much seen during Shavuot. There was even a legend that Har Sinai burst into flower upon our receiving Torah! Because of this legend, flowers were often used to decorate the Sifrei Torah on Shavuot. Our roses in Victoria are always in beautiful full bloom at this time of year. In Italy, Shavuot was called the Feast of Roses, and in Persia it was the Feast of Flowers. Roses continue to be a symbol of love – as any florist will tell us, as they ready themselves for Valentine’s Day! So decorate your tables with greenery, and scatter rose petals amongst your Torah scrolls!
Shavuot: Science and love, flowers and roiselekh,Ketubot and the gift of Torah – and we haven’t eaten blintzes yet. I call my blintzes little bubbeles. Everyone has to be seated at the table, and then I bring my baking pan in, set it down and with a grand flourish, worthy of a Downton Abby silver dome, I uncover my blintzes, plump with butter and ricotta, soon to be eaten with fresh berries and sour cream.
This week as we read the first chapters of Bamidbar, and take a census of our numbers, it is also a time for us to reflect on our own perimeters and borders – what perimeters exist – and what do not. I love how Torah often melts into physics and the Oneness of all. Physics and fractals show how all is One, in reflections of infinite pattern. Torah enables us to have glimpses of a God that is both infinite and present, to understand our souls as a beloved fractal of the Infinite One.