Home JUNE 2024 Divine Play

Divine Play

Eat the Cheesecake!

All Jews can agree that the holiday of Shavuot celebrates the Torah (Pentateuch). However, Jews differ as to how the Torah came into existence: whether wholly as a product of human beings, whether given by G-d to Moshe on Sinai precisely on Shavuot (i.e., the sixth day of the Hebrew month of Sivan), or as some kind of divine-human collaboration (that is: a belief in a Sinai-type event with the actual words of the Torah written down by human beings). There are also a number of traditions concerning G-d’s own relationship with the Torah. A midrash (from the Zohar), speaking about the Torah as pre-dating creation, says: “G-d looked into the Torah and created the world.” Another midrash (from the Talmud), which provides a kind of overview of G-d’s typical day, speaks about G-d dedicating the first three hours of each day to “sitting and learning Torah.” In both of these midrashim, we sense that “Torah” is being used as some kind of fundamental key to existence, whose study enables a vital connection to this “key.”
    Curious about the rest of G-d’s daily schedule? Well, you’re in luck! In honor of Shavuot, here it is: During the second 3-hour block of time, G-d sits in judgment of the world, but since the world is invariably doomed as a result of this process, G-d switches seats to “the chair of mercy”; during the third set of three hours, G-d “sits and sustains the world, from the horns of wild oxen to the eggs of lice”; and during the final 3-hour period, G-d “plays with the Leviathan” (see Psalms 104.26; other traditions speak of G-d playing with the tzadikim/pious). 
    Aside from giving us a sense of G-d’s schedule, this midrash points to the tremendous importance of play. The Maharal of Prague, Rabbi Judah Loew (d. 1609) draws significance from the fact that in Hebrew the first few letters of “Leviathan” spell out the Hebrew word “livuy” (“to accompany” or “to connect with”). In other words, the midrash both conveys to us the astonishing idea that G-d plays, and it also gives us a sense of what constitutes good play:  When you are fully within the word of play, when you are fully in “the zone,” you are fully connected to your play and to the things and people with whom you are playing. To my mind, the Maharal’s is a wonderfully playful reading of the midrash, and it lends poetic sense to why, years after his death, the legend developed in the early 19th century that the Maharal created a Golem to protect the Jews of Prague (and if I too can be playful here, the Maharal may have been predisposed to such a reading because in Hebrew his very name, “Loew,” shares the same letters as “livuy”). 
    The play element of religion is often forgotten or dismissed. And yet a noted scholar, Johan Huizinga (1872-1945), has shown that just as it is possible to categorize the human being as Homo Sapiens, so it is possible to speak of the human being as a creature of play, as Homo Ludens (in 1938, Huizinga published a book under this name with the subtitle: “A Study of the Play-Element in Culture”).
    Whatever else happens in Israel on Shavuot, all of Israel has fun with the holiday’s emphasis on dairy foods—especially cheesecake. Weeks before the holiday, cheesecakes start appearing in grocery and convenience stores throughout the country, and recipes for cheesecakes abound on social media and in newspaper food-sections. On Tuesday night June 11, the Israeli thing to do will be to eat cheesecake with your family and friends. Yes: “Israeli.” Just as in America, the secular state here relies upon the religious culture of a majority of its citizens for many of the country’s seasonal traditions. So enjoy your cheesecake and have a Happy Shavuot.

TEDDY WEINBERGER is a contributing writer to Jlife magazine. He made aliyah with his family in 1997 from Miami, where he was an assistant professor of religious studies. Teddy and his wife, Sarah Jane Ross, have five children.


Previous articleJlife Extra- May 15, 2024
Next articleYom Ha’aztmaut


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

serdivan escort adapazarı escort odunpazarı escort