Category Archives: Holidays

Independence Day 2017


The United States of America is a country about an idea, and as long as that idea resonates in the hearts of men and women, the USA will endure. That first statement is little bit poetic and I think it’s more accurate to say, “We are a country about a couple of ideas: human rights and self-government.”

The first idea is that “all men [and women] are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, and that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” This quote comes from our founding document, the Declaration of Independence. And maybe when it’s expressed in that archaic language from 1776, it sounds a little bit old and dated. It doesn’t sound new, or hip or cool.

But don’t we all believe that we should be free to be who we were born to be? Or who we choose to be? After a certain age, no one else should be telling us what to think, or what to do, or how to be, or whom to associate with. As long as we aren’t hurting anyone else, leave us alone. Maybe in this day of robo-phone call marketing and social media constantly dinging updates in our iPads, it’s more accurate to say something a little different. Maybe it’s more like this: everyone will try to tell us what they think, what they think we should think, but each of us has the right and responsibility to choose what we do think. Would-be leaders and elected officials and celebrities will constantly bombard us with messages about who they think we should be, but we each get to choose for ourselves. Or to make it up for ourselves, if we happen to be one of Nietzsche’s supermen.  Choosing for ourselves, self-government.  Being who we chose, human rights.

And this notion of a Creator, is that a little bit dated as well? Hasn’t evolution and cosmology explained the origin of humanity and the entire universe without the need for a creator? Well, let’s stop and think carefully about that for a moment. Even celebrated scientist of the 1970s and 1980s Carl Sagan – the Neil deGrasse Tyson of his time — said toward the end of his life, “Science should not rule out God, until God can be proven not to exist.” And Albert Einstein – the Stephen Hawking of his time – said, “God does not play dice with the Universe.” I can also tell you that Sir Isaac Newton [also the Stephen Hawking of his own time], the man who literally wrote the book on Physics and Calculus [it’s called Principia and I studied from a version of it translated into modern
English]…. Anyway, Sir Isaac Newton actually wrote several books on physics and mathematics, but he wrote more books and essays on faith and Christianity than he did on physics and math. Being a student of physics myself [I hold a Bachelor of Science in Engineering Physics from West Point], I keep up with these things.

As humans launch bigger and better telescopes higher above the atmosphere, to see farther out and older light than has ever been seen before, the patters that emerge show a beginning. Even in quantum mechanics, the math takes us right back to Planck Time – a fraction of an instant after the beginning of the universe. A few weeks ago, one of those orbiting telescopes finished observations, taken over many years, that prove light bends when it passes a strong source of gravity – proving Einstein and quantum mechanics. Now, does this notion that science does show a beginning, prove that the Southern Baptists are right and God is Jay-zus Kriiist of Nazr’uth (aka Jesus Christ)? Maybe. And the secularists out there are probably wondering who this Hay-zeus Tchryst is anyway [You thought Jesuschrist was just a swear word, didn’t you? Admit it.]. It doesn’t prove that anyone’s interpretation of the Divine is right, or wrong. But it strongly suggests that there is One – a Creator. The rest we have to take on faith and as the Oracle told Neo, “Make up your own damn mind.” Me, personally, I’m not just a man of science, I’m also a man faith, and I do have a faith relationship with the Creator and Yeshua the Messiah, whom God sent. That’s how I’ve made up my own d@mn mind. But you, do your own homework and make up your own mind.

The idea here is that human rights come from Nature and Nature’s God and can be neither created, nor destroyed. They can be debated, surrendered, fought over, and sometimes taken away, missed, or unacknowledged. But like Newton’s Laws of Motion, human rights exist independent of any government’s, or court’s ability to grant or abridge them. Like an electron or a photon of light, human rights need only an observer with a point of view to see them and like static electricity, or sunlight, they are self-evident.

Abraham Lincoln made an observation that each generation must appropriate the founding of America for itself. That is what makes us Americans. Unlike Englishmen (Englishwomen), the French, or the Germans, most of us in America can’t trace our lineage back to the days of tribes. Except the indigenous Native Americans – they can trace their tribes back to 10,000 years ago when they walked across the landbridge from Asia – where the Bering Straights are now, they sea between Alaska and Siberia. Most Americans don’t have those thousand plus years of ineffable French-ness, or Italian-ness handed down in custom and oral tradition to tell us what it means to be American.

I recently spent the better part of a year in part of the world where they have cities that are older than most countries in Europe. I spoke to men from the Pashtun tribes who can trace their lineage back to Biblical Adam, or at least to the Babel event, when languages were confused and families scattered all over the world. The Pashtuns, who lack enforceable borders and a country recognized in the UN, nevertheless, have an e-x-t-r-e-m-e-l-y well-developed sense of e-x-a-c-t-l-y what it means to be Pashtun. They know who they are and where they came from, and it has been passed down from grandfather to grandson and grandmother to granddaughter since before the beginning of history. Think about that for a moment. The Pashtuns have unbroken oral tradition that goes back father than the Siberian Landbridge. They know who they are. Unmistakably. But Americans tend to lack that ineffable American-ness. Until they appropriate the founding for themselves. Much like the Jewish Passover, when Jews say, “I came up from Egypt,” or “My Creator brought me up from Egypt,” Americans need to appropriate the founding for themselves.

Americans need to understand that we are a self-governing people with home-rule back to 1495. Yes, I’m from Florida. So, I date home-rule back the original town councils in St. Augustine, in Olde Espanish Florida. For the rest of the country, homerule goes back to the Pilgrims in 1620, or in the case of Texas back to 1836. But I digress. Americans need to understand that we have a tradition as old as some city halls in Germany and some cathedrals in France, of making up our own damn minds, of disagreeing without being disagreeable, of winning and governing from the center.  We have a tradition debating and losing and waiting until the next election cycle to “throw the bums out.” Or “!!Tida ellos por la calle!!” as they no doubt used to say in St Augustine.

We have a tradition of self-reliance and looking to our friends and families for support, before we look to outsiders. We have a tradition of being self-made men (and women) and work our way up in a chosen profession from the level of page, copy-boy or sweeper-of-floors to being the “Most Trusted Man in America” like Walter Cronkite or the Anchor of NBC Nightly News like Lester Holt. We have a tradition of kindness and generosity like private citizens donating a $1 Billion to relief efforts after the World Trade Center fell, or sending $100s of millions in private relief to islands in the Pacific that were devastated by a Tsunami during the Bush 43 Administration. And we have a tradition of recognizing when we are wrong and changing, like Robert E. Lee taking a knee next to a freed slave at the Meeting House during Reconstruction. No, our history isn’t without injustice or misdeed. But who else sent people to the Moon? Who else could lead the Allies to victory over tyranny in both the European and Pacific Theaters of War during World War II? In what other country would a man like Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, take as his examples, both Jesus Christ and Gandhi, walking the path of love and nonviolence, to lead his people? The Rev. Dr. King led his people to vote and politely demand that local councils, state legislatures and the U. S. Congress recognize the human rights they were born with. Yes, Americans have done things we should be ashamed of. But we have also done things that worth of reverence and emulation. As Jason Lee’s character said in Vanilla Sky, “the sweet just ain’t as sweet, without the sour.”

So, the USA is a country about two ideas, really, human rights and self-government.  As long as men and women yearn to be free and make of their own lives, what they choose, these two ideas will endure and America will endure with them.

The opinions expressed above are my own, unless otherwise quoted or cited, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the U. S. Defense Dept, Texas Military Dept, Dept of the Army, or Texas Army National Guard.  Each of these organizations has its own Public Affairs Officer, who should in no way be confused with me.

Memorial Day 2017


Memoiral Day Weekend! The start of summer movie season and a little bit more.

Time stands still for no one. Memorial Day comes around toward the end of May every year and we celebrate with backyard barbecues and the beginning of Summer Blockbuster Movie season. We have some really good movies out right now and some that are kind of …interesting. But Memorial Day started as Decoration Day in the years following the U. S. Civil War. Memorial Day began as a time when the widows of soldiers who did in that Civil War went to clean and decorate the graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers in burial sites near their towns and communities. Memorial Day began as a day to remember those soldiers (sailors, airmen, Marines, Coast Guardsmen) who died fighting for every American’s freedom and way of life, and the freedom of many, many more.

When we were kids, of course there were the barbecues and maybe a ceremony or parade. The high school marching band and the Veterans of Foreign Wars would march down Main Street and play patriotic music. For my generation we had Star Wars and Superman movies to see (or see again).

Now that I have classmates who have died in the recent wars, and I have friends and fellow graduates who lost husbands, wives, fiancés, children, siblings….My perspective has changed. Now that I have have been part of an Afghan Army Advising Team that had active threat streams targeting us and our counterparts, my perspective has changed.  Some people will spend a good chunk of time this weekend bringing their children, nephews and nieces to the military cemetery, or war monuments, to honor departed fathers, mothers, uncles, aunts, grandparents, loved-ones and friends. Others will barbecue and go to the movies or concerts.

There’s a meme that’s gone around Facebook the last few years with the widow at the military grave bawling her eyes out next to a toddler and an infant. That touches my heart. I have a dear friend who loved flying helicopters more than almost anything in the world. But she may not ever fly a helicopter again because she loves her fiancee who died fighting in Iraq more than she loves flying. Fortunately, it’s her son that she actually loves more than anything else in this world. I have classmates and fellow graduates from West Point who died in these recent wars. I know a graduate from the class after mine who lost her son to combat this year. My heart moves for these stories and others.

Some people will never quite get past the loss of their loved-ones in combat. And maybe they never should. I don’t know. I’m not them. I haven’t walked thru their experiences or lost anyone I loved more than my own life, yet. So all I can say to them is, “Grieve as you need to and live as you can.”

Some people don’t quite understand the sacrifice of courageous military men and women who died fighting for their freedom. Some people just enjoy a sunny weekend, grilling food in their backyards, drinking beverage of choice, and going to rock shows or movies.

Some of us military folk have looked down on those who just barbecue and go to movies and concerts for Memorial Day. We think we’re superior because we understand the sacrifice that made it possible for the others to celebrate. I’m not sure that either celebrating without knowing why, or the smug sense of superiority is really very good. I think our relatives and friends who died for our freedom and way of life, would want us to do all of these and more, but do it to honor their memory and without feeling smug.

Thanks for reading. If you liked or hated what you read, please tell your friends.  If you liked it and want to read more, feel free to peruse my blog, and also click follow.  Lastly, please remember that DoD, Texas Military Department, the U. S. Army and the Texas National Guard all have actual spokespersons and Public Affairs Offices and I am none of these.  These opinions are my own.


Jewish Fall Holy Days — Bet (So, What are We Celebrating, vol 2, part 10)

The next of the Jewish Fall Holy Days, after Yom Kippur is Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles or Festival of Booths. Sukkot begins five days after Yom Kuppur. The name Sukkot comes from a Hebrew word that refers to temporary dwelling, more like a tent than a hotel. That is to say, the dwelling itself is temporary, not just the stay in it. Sukkot is followed directly by Simchat Torah, the day of rejoicing in God’s Word. I believe that this is also sometimes referred to as the Last Great Day. Some of my Jewish friends who grew up in Judaism, like Adam Young or Elisabeth Robbins, can correct me on this.

Sukkot is one of three pilgrimage feasts, Pesach and Shavout are the others [and I have writ other pieces about those Jewish Holy Days and their Christian counterparts]. At the pilgrimage feasts, all the men of Israel were commanded to present themselves and their offering to the Almighty, at The Temple in Jerusalem. In the days of Solomon’s Temple and during the Second Temple period, Jewish communities in farflung locations outside the Holy Land – like Ethiopia, India and Spain – would send representatives or delegations. Those who lived in the Holy Land would often bring their whole families along to the pilgrimage feasts.

Traditionally, Jews will erect a Sukkah (singular of Sukkot) a day or two after Yom Kippur. Then Sukkot begins on the fifteenth day of the seventh month and lasts eight days. Some Jews will live in the Sukkah for that time, actually sleeping, preparing and eating meals, etc., in the Sukkah. Others will pray in the Sukkah and bring meals outside to eat in it. Another tradition involved in Sukkot is waving or shaking the Lulov. A Lulov consists of the branch or fruit of four kinds of trees, usually piece of citrus fruit, along with palm fronds, a small branch of myrtle and a small branch of willow. The traditions for Simchat Torah usually involve reading the last verses of the last chapter of Deuteronomy, the first verses of Genesis Chapter One and sometimes carrying the Torah scroll and dancing with it while singing worship songs or prayers. And there are many other traditions also associated with these Holy Days.

Following the Exodus, Moses, Aaron and Miriam led the tribes of Israel through forty years of walking and dwelling in tents (dwelling in sukkot) in the deserts between Egypt and the Holy Land. During that time of travelling in the deserts, they worshiped the Almighty in the Tabernacle. The Tabernacle in the Wilderness was dedicated and services began there at the time of Sukkot. Many generations later, The first Temple, built by Solomon, was also dedicated and worship transitioned from the Tabernacle to The Temple at the time of Sukkot.

Some Messianic Jews and Hebrew Roots Christians believe that Yeshua (Jesus) was actually born during the time of Sukkot. There’s a proof for this, similar to proving parallel lines in Euclidian geometry, that involves the beginning of St Luke’s Gospel and determining when John the Baptist was born and knowing how far along Miriam (Mary), Yeshua’s mother was when she went to stay with her cousin Elisheva (Elizabeth) and her husband Zachariah, parents of John the Baptist. (And that’s not complicated or confusing either, is it?). The easier hint is the first chapter of the Gospel of St John the Apostle, where he writes that the Word became flesh and Tabernacled among us in the form of Yeshua (see John 1:14, NASB). Even as a young kid, when I became an evangelical, I considered the use of the word tabernacled to be a hint or a sign post pointing to some unseen truth hidden in the Gospels. Now as a Messianic Jew, I believe the use of the word Tabernacled in John 1:14 is a hint that Yeshua was born at the Feast of Tabernacles or Sukkot. Not everyone believes this. Others think He was born in the Spring at Pesach, that he was born, died and resurrected during the same week of the year, just thirty-three years apart. To me personally, that would just be too much irony. And I sometimes muse that the Universe runs on irony.

To me, Sukkot is a time to celebrate God and man dwelling together.

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These opinions are my own and are not necessarily endorsed by any Rabbi, Chaplain, Pastor, Priest, Minister, Imam, Cleric, Rebbe, Bishop or Mullah.  Nor are they endorsed by my employers, the National Guard or the DoD.

If you enjoyed this piece, please share it with your friends.  If you have a favorite tradition for Sukkot or fall in general, why not share it with us in the comments?

Jewish Fall Holy Days – Alef (So, what are We Celebrating, vol 2, parts 8 and 9)

Jews the world over have just celebrated Rosh HaShannah and Yom Kippur.  Sukkot is coming up in just a few days.  Rosh HaShannah, means the head of the year, or New Years. Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement.  Sukkot is the Feast of Tabernacles or the Festival of Booths.  I’m going to focus on Rosh HaShannah and Yom Kippur in this piece.

Those of you who have read me for a  while will know that when I write about religion or about religious holy days, I usually write about Judaism and Christianity together.  For Holy Days, I tend to write about them in groups that are connected thematically or happen to fall next to each other on the calendar that year.  Judaism observes a calendar based primarily on lunar cycles, while the civil calendar is based on the solar year.  Thus Jewish Holy Days move around a few days or weeks, earlier or later, within the Gregorian calendar, each successive year.  For example, the eight nights of Hanukkah and Christmas usually overlap or fall close together in late December. Though sometimes Hanukkah falls several weeks earlier.

There aren’t any Christian religious holy days that fall on or near Rosh HaShannah and Yom Kippur, so there isn’t really anything to pair them up with besides each other.  This isn’t going be exhaustive or encyclopaedic.  I’m just going to hit the high points and then leave myself some room to write more about them next year.  So, if I failed to mention your favorite tradition or left out something you feel is important, write about that in the comments.

Okay, here goes. Rosh HaShanna and Yom Kippur (part 8)

According to scripture, the fall cycle of Jewish Holy Days starts on the first of day of the seventh month, the first of Tishri. For many Jews preparation starts the prior month in Elul, which is traditionally a time for reconciliation and making amends. Spending the month of Elul making amends isn’t commanded in the Scriptures, but it’s practical. If it’s been a bad year, it may take the whole month. If it hasn’t, then we’re spending the time reconnecting with friends and relations.

The first of Tishri is celebrated as Rosh HaShanna or New Years’ in rabbinical Judaism. It’s a time for commemorating the creation of the world by the Divine and celebrating the Divine as King over mankind. Another component of the first of Tishri in many congregations is the Feast of Trumpets or Yom Teruah. It’s a day for blowing shofarim or ram’s horn trumpets and rejoicing.  In some Messianic Jewish or Hebrew Roots groups, Yom Teruah is regarded as heralding the return of the King, Messiah Yeshua.

Ten days later comes Yom Kippur. The Day of Atonement. In ancient times, when the Jews had The Temple in Jerusalem (or before that, the Tabernacle in the wilderness) Yom Kippur was the one day of the year when the High Priest entered the Most Holy Place.  All the Jews would fast, and no one would work, on Yom Kippur.  Before entering the Most Holy Place the High Priest would offer a series of sacrifices covering himself, all the other priests, etc.  He would also wash several times. Then they would take two goats, and onto one goat, called the Azazel goat, the High Priest would symbolically transfer the sins of all the people.  The other goat, he would sacrifice and take its blood into the Most Holy Place with him.  The Azazel goat would be set outside the camp, or taken to a cliff and thrown down on the rocks.

In modern times, prayer services are substituted for all sacrifices.

The prayer services on Yom Kippur are largely about confession and repentance and dedication to serving God.  But its group confession and group repentance and group dedication.

Kol Nidre (part 9)

Now, what I really want to talk about in this piece is the tradition of Kol Nidre.  It’s a prayer service held at sundown on the evening that Yom Kippur starts.  It features the assembly of the congregation, the closing of the doors, and the Cantor singing the Kol Nidre.  Kol Nidre is prayer asking for God to forgive us for and release us from vows made falsely, usually under pain of torture or death — such as conversion to another religion. Or from vows we have intended to fulfill, but didn’t. It is by no means permission to lie, cheat, or steal in business or civil matters.

It is widely regarded that Kol Nidre was written by rabbis in Europe during the Middle Ages, when Jews were frequently under various persecutions by Catholics or Muslims.  Under threat of torture or death, many Jews would change their names, begin going to the other religion’s worship and prayers in public, but practice their Judaism in private.  They would become crypto-Jews and hope that soon the King, Sultan, Prince, Bishop, or Caliph who decreed the persecution would be overthrown or die, or that they could move somewhere far away and practice their Judaism openly again.  Jews asked themselves questions like, “How can we serve God, if we’re dead?  How can my great grandchildren serve God, if they are never born because my bloodline is extinguished in this persecution?”  The answer was Kol Nidre.  We convert in public, but in private, before Yom Kippur, we will ask God to absolve us of the conversion.

For those of you keeping score at home, this is precisely how a guy who calls himself StThomas comes to be writing about Judaism in the first place.  My real last name is a Spanish forced conversion name.  So, somewhere up the family tree, one of my  grandfather’s great grandfathers faced that decision about changing his name and going to Mass.  Some would call that cowardly.  I say it takes more courage to live in hope of freedom.  And none of us have faced the Spanish Inquisition or ISIS.  I’m sure you’d like to think that when Jihadi John has picked you out to star in an ISIS / Daesh video and he threatens you [redacted to be in good taste]…. well, I hope you get the point.

So, Kol Nidre has become more dear to me in recent years.

But here’s the lesson for our daily and relentless pursuit of virtue. We need to make things right with our friends and relations. We also need to make things right with God.  Judaism tends to focus on the making amends to friends and relations with 39 days devoted to that and one evening to Kol Nidre.  Christianity, with its Confirmation, rededication, and numerous alter calls, tends focus more on getting right with God.  As men and women of faith and virtue we cannot neglect either.  We must make amends to our friends and relations; we must ask forgiveness from the Divine and we must live more righteously tomorrow than we did yesterday.

Opinions expressed in these writings are my own and are not endorsed by any Rabbi, Rebbe, Priest, Minister, Pastor, Bishop, Imam or Shiekh; neither are they endorsed by my employers, the National Guard, or the Department of Defense.

If you have a favorite Rosh HaShanna or Yom Kippur tradition that you want tell the Internet about, please share in the comments.  If you enjoyed this piece, why not take another moment and follow some of the links below to others?  Why not click the follow button, and bring your friends back with you?

Choosing who we are and what we value (part 1)

Constitution Day falls in September, in the USA.  It makes the date when the U. S. Constitution went into effect after the ratification process in the thirteen original States.   Constitution Day also reminds of the promise made to many of the States which had hesitated to ratify the Constitution because it didn’t sufficiently guarantee the rights, privileges and immunities they had recently fought a war to secure.  The first Congress of the U.S. made good on that promise and delivered in the form of the Bill of Rights.  The Bill of Rights secures in the law of the land many rights specified and alluded to in the Declaration of Independence, among the life and liberty, private ownership of property, freedom of religion, freedom of speech and freedom of assembly.  The Constitution does not mention the Divine, but the first amendment secures freedom of religion; that is to say, freedom to conduct our lives and daily affairs according to our understand of the Divine and what the Divine calls us to do and to avoid; or not.

It wasn’t that long ago that Americans recognized the role of the Divine in the affairs of men. The Declaration of Independence refers to unalienable rights granted by a Creator, appeals to the Supreme Judge of the world, to Divine Providence, and Nature’s God. The Continental Congress opened its regular sessions with prayer during the War for Independence. Presidents have ended speeches with “God bless America,” for as long as newsmen have had recording devices to capture their words. Our money still says “In God we trust” on it.

There was no debate over whether it was the Congregationalists’ God, the Puritans’ God, the Catholics’ God, the Deists’ God or the Jews’ God. All agreed that man was under the Divine and had a responsibility to understand and operate within Natural Law.

We have a couple more religions in our country today than we did at the time of the founding. And while the secularists, humanists and atheists claim to control the national agenda, over 80% of Americans believe in the Divine as some form of Deity, with most of those being Christians and Jews. Americans and their institutions used to acknowledge that even though many of us understood the Divine differently than others (all those different sects and denominations) we all agreed that the Divine was over us and we had to operate within Natural Law.

As I tipped in the title of this post, this is going to be a series, because I can’t get to everything I want to say in one post of readable length. Eight hundred words being the standard length for a “column,” from the old days of ink and paper and printed newspapers.  In this series, I’m going to highlight some major cultural decisions we’re facing today, in the U. S. and the world, and make a moral, ethical case for doing the Judeo-Christian right thing. Hopefully, this series will be interspersed with some pieces on the Jewish fall Holy Days and reviews of fall TV premiers.  But I may leave off writing about the television, because another series of mine, “So, what are we Celebrating,” is still missing any more than a passing reference to the Jewish fall Holy Days. I feel remiss in that omission. Soon, it will be time that I rectified that.


Memorial Day, to Honor those who died fighting for the United States

On April 25, 1866, in an act of generosity and reconciliation noted by newsmen and poets of the time, a women’s memorial association in Columbus, Mississippi, decorated the graves of both Confederate and Union soldiers.  Local records of the period indicate that at least two ministers joined the event, giving exhortation and leading prayer.

This Memorial Day, can we all follow the example of these ladies?  Just because they were from the South doesn’t invalidate the virtue of their idea and rightness of their example.  They got it right.  They laid aside the animosity and anger and politics of the day to honor the fallen Soldiers of both Confederate and Union Armies.  They didn’t spit on the graves of the Union Soldiers and lay wreaths to their Confederate dead.  They gave similar honor to the graves of both Union and Confederate dead.

Let the politics go for a day or few hours.  Set aside the racial politics, gender politics, class strife and religious differences long enough to honor the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen who died fighting for your right to believe those different opinions and practice those different religions.  Perhaps in doing so, we’ll see that we aren’t so different or so divided after all.

Opinions expressed in these writings are my own, unless otherwise cited, and do not necessarily reflect those of my employers, the National Guard, the U. S. Army, or the DoD.


Shavuot and Pentecost, to be a Child of Heaven (or So, What are We Celebrating, Vol 2, Pt 5)

I wrote about Shavuot and Pentecost last year.  I don’t want to rehash completely for those of you who have been following me for a while.  But for the newcomers, I’ll give a brief recap. Shavuot is the Feast of Weeks in Judaism, about fifty days after Passover.  In the Christian calendar, Pentecost is observed about 50 days after Easter.  Realizing that the first Easter coincided with Passover, these Holy Days are intertwined. Most Rabbis regard Shavuot as the real birthday of the Jewish people; the anniversary of the day when G-d gave the Ten Commandments and took His People and they took Him to be their G-d.  Some regard it as a betrothal.  I prefer to think of it as adoption.  Many Christian Pastors, Ministers and Priests will teach that Pentecost is the birthday of the Church, the day the Holy Spirit came upon and en-dwelled believers, giving them Power to be Christ’s witnesses.

This year, it all strikes me in a much more personal way.  Maybe it’s that just a couple weeks ago the Torah portion included Leviticus 24 and 25.  But that regularly happens.  It has just struck me differently this year.  In those chapters of the Torah, G-d says several times, ‘You are Mine, and I brought you out of Egypt to serve Me.  You shall not be slaves of each other or slaves of any other nation.  And the land is mine, too.  So, every 50 years you shall return the land to its ancestral holdings.’  I used to read that and see it tied in with teachings on charity and how the rich man who buys a Hebrew slave, he only has him for seven years.  And in that time the rich man is supposed to train his brother to run a business (or a farm) and a household, so that he can go free and be a productive citizen.  But this year, what struck me was the phrases ‘You are Mine…to be My servants.’ It calls to mind the phrase from St. Paul in 1 Corinthians, “you were bought with a price,” and from St. Peter in 1 Peter, “the Master who bought them.”

So, I remember hearing Pastors and Ministers preach, “Easter isn’t really over until we get to Pentecost.”  And I remember hearing Rabbis teach, “Passover isn’t really complete until we get to Shavuot.”  And in the middle between the two sets of Holy Days is this idea that we have been bought by G-d, with Miracles of Passover and paid with the blood of Messiah (Christ).  To the Patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) and the Matriarchs (Sarah, Rivka, Rachel and Leah), G-d said he was making a covenant with them and their descendants, but the emphasis always seemed to be on the Patriarch. At Shavuot, it is unmistakable that God is taking us, not just the Patriarchs, to be His People.  Extending the personalization of Passover — we are supposed to relive the events leading up to and including the Exodus, and to regard it as our deliverance from our own Egypt, Shavuot and Pentecost mark not just the generic anniversary of when G-d chose His people. It also marks each of our personal covenant back with G-d, our personal adoption into the family of G-d, when He became our G-d and our Father in Heaven, when we became His child(ren).

It reminds me of Benjamin Franklin’s answer, when asked what the religion of America was (and this story is probably apocryphal….).  Perhaps the asker hoped to get Franklin to say, “Congregationalist,” or “Calvinist,” validating on sect and excluding others.  Franklin didn’t respond with such specificity.  Instead he said, “Americans believe that there is one God who made all things; that he governs the World by his Providence; that he ought to be worshipped by Adoration, Prayer and Thanksgiving; But that the most acceptable Service of God is doing good to Man; that the Soul is immortal; and that God will certainly reward Virtue and punish Vice either here or hereafter.”  Franklin did not specify any sect.  Instead he gave a generalized description of principles that summarized the American way of life and includes all sects of Christianity and Judaism, and so many other religions as well.

Love G-d.  Love your neighbor.  The rest is commentary.

Thank you for taking a moment out of your Pentecost, Shavuot, or just out of your day, to share my thoughts on these Holy Days and on being a Child of Heaven.  I appreciate each of you who read me.  Why not take a moment and share a story from your own experience in the comments?

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Benjamin Franklin and William Duane, The Memoirs of Benjamin Franklin, Volume 1, p. 38.  Philadelphia: McCarty & Davis, 1840.