In the debate between environmentalism and ecology the two can be differentiated along the male-female dialectic.
Thus the former can be loosely viewed as the identification of a problem and its attempted solution – a sort of head to head approach – a stereotypical male stance. Whereas the latter is about the welfare of the house (ecology is Greek for ‘the knowing of the House’) and the concern for the myriad complex relationships that take place in the home environment – a stereotypical female stance. So it is more about relationships than it is about problem solving or struggle or apportioning blame or lobbying.
In the scheme of the festival cycle (see the introduction to the Holistic Haggadah, Urim, 2004) Shavuot is the most overwhelmingly feminine of them all.* Its prime foci are: the ‘wedding’ at Sinai, the Book of Ruth, the eating of milk products, the greening of the synagogues, and the chanting of parts of the Zohar in the Sephardi Tradition.
Starting with the last and working backwards: in the Sephardi tradition the purpose of staying up all night (tikun liylah) is not for the sake of intellectual achievement or for the gaining of a little bit more knowledge (this should be done all year round) but rather to prepare for The Receiving by chanting (not studying) mystical texts that bypass the cerebral cortex raising the energy of the Receiver – a sort of Mystical Union. The greening of the synagogue is a visceral reminder of the Garden of Eden** – the original womb – where we roamed at peace with the animals, drinking of their milk and not of their flesh. And milk is the symbol of motherhood, of lovingkindness, of Giving which is the attribute of Ruth – the woman of lovingkindness (for isn’t ruthless the absolute lack of lovingkindness?).
So Shavuot is the bridge between now and then. And the Book of Ruth which is more than just a story about women – is the story about relationships, ALL relationships. Almost every relationship that effects one’s life is touched upon in this little book – husbands and wives, parents and children, siblings, in-laws, between women, between men (David and Jonathan), between generations, between the insiders and the outsiders, between the rich and the poor, between the haves and the have-nots, between the bosses and workers, between family members, between ourselves and the land and nature, between the past, present and future, between this world and the messianic world, between life and death, between mother and child, between lovers.
And finally there is the wedding in which we reaffirm our relationship with the Creator.
Blessings for Shavuot
Some of the other festivals can be allotted as follows: Tisha B’Av is male since it is the destructive anger of the father (Av is Hebrew for father); Tu B’Av is the reconciliation of male and female; Rosh Hashannah is more male than female since it is the day judgment; Yom Kippur is more female than male since it is the day of forgiveness; and Succot is the perfected balance between male and female – sitting in the womb like succah waving around a palm fond and fondling an etrog (citrus fruit).
This connection between Shavuot and The Garden is hinted at in the use of the definitive article in the Creation story – and it was evening and morning of THE sixth day (rather than day six as with the conclusion of the previous days of Creation). Rashi asks: to what is THE sixth day referring? And answers: to THE sixth day of Sivan – Shavuot.