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Shavuot 2014: A Karaite Perspective

Updated on June 5, 2014

I would be derelict in my duties if I did not write about Shavuot, and in particular the Law or the Torah as we Karaites perceive it. Because within the Karaite community, this passing of the law into our hands, directly from the Lord is the quintessential origin of all that we are and all that we strive to be. Anan ben David instructed us to bring the law unto ourselves, to personalize it, to absorb it and then to live by it. But even amongst Karaites we fail to fully appreciate this concept. Inspired by God, drawing directly from his own ancestral past, what was Anan imparting to us if not the most important precept of our faith. What he was saying was this, "You must be a light unto yourself and this source of light is the Law!" Understand that this is or was a revolutionary concept. That the chain of passing the law, the Torah to Moses, then to the elders, and then down through the ages to the judges, the Kings, the governors and finally the Exilarchs was over. As former Exilarch, Anan was saying it was no longer his responsibility to tell everyone what the law meant, how it should be employed, how to judge everyone's life. He handed over the responsibility to each and everyone of us. In so doing, he was informing everyone that there was no other law, not the law of kings, nor the law of state, only the law of God as seen through one's own eyes. All other sources of law were manmade, fragmentary, divisive and often contradictory. But the law as it was handed down directly to us from Yahweh, although we may all have our own personal interpretation that differs slightly, was applicable to all of us, could be applied by all of us and ultimately unites us. It is quite simple if you let me elaborate. To be a light unto oneself means that you must not follow the light of another, no matter how much everyone proclaims, praises, or worships that other source of law, essentially making you an outcast for not following them like sheep without question. That other law may seem reasonable at first, perhaps even logical, and your friends may prove to be very convincing but Anan knew that you could not be a light unto yourself if you followed blindly in the darkness of authority. Authority as it is expressed by men will always lead to superficial dogma, and as we can see from others that say they are the law that must be obeyed, immorality. No matter how much those others may seek to justify their laws as moral, they will succumb to environmental pressures, to the pursuits of pleasure, and sadly, as we can see from the world around us, self-serving institutionalized aggrandizement.

Torah as Freedom

Freedom is the natural result of being a light unto oneself. Freedom is an abstract thought because as much as you may wish to proclaim you live in a free society, the reality is you don't. Whether it be China where I live, or the USA which still views itself as the pinnacle of democracy, you are still monitored, controlled and dictated to in regards to how you will live, behave and believe. Those that abject to such authority are silenced one way or another. You merely have to look at this weeks events and recognize that the law, even in America is very different to those in power as compared to how it would be applied to you. If you were to release five convicted killers, sworn to your destruction and those of everyone you knew, even if you were motivated for all the right reasons, you'd be spending the rest of your life behind bars, no chance of parole. Yet, a President can do so, even when the motivating factor is to obtain the release of a deserter, a likely collaborator, and someone that is aligned with those that are now released to go on a killing spree once more. Or perhaps a more appropriate example would be your positioning as a government executive, disposing of paperwork and records that exposed that you had let military personnel that needed medical attention, veterans that gave up so much to ensure that you lived in safety, so that no one would discover that you let them die needlessly, in agony, while you rewarded yourself with bonuses and acclaim, protected by the very same President that had just released those five terrorist killers. It is not my intention to make this article political, only to point out that when you are not a light unto oneself, when you blindly follow the laws of another, when you do not guide your life through Torah, then you have no freedom, and little by little you will also lose that morality which the Torah provides to you.

Within the Light

Actual freedom is independence to think and act within the light that guides you. As soon as you step out of that light you begin to fall into a world of shadows, where the lines between right and wrong are no longer clearly defined. As long as all action takes place within the light, then it can never be contradictory. The light is the Law, is the Torah, it is separate from you but at the same time it is part of you. Every action you take you have to see through the light of the Torah. By doing so, you will see your own actions through the eyes of God. If you allow yours observance of law to be through the eyes of another then you are only falling victim to exactly what Anan ben David was warning you against. As long as you generate that light yourself then you will find that you can live a life without effort, without serious consequences. You can live this life without consequences as long as you understand the nature of this effort. This is not a philosophical argument but a reality that can be pursued. All of you probably consider that you face several hundred problems over your lifetime and a life without consequences is impossible but being a light unto yourself shows you the way. You must face each problem immediately under the intensity of that light. Not later, not once someone else comes to deal with it, but as soon as it arises. Our minds need to be clear of problems, living a life free of effort, because the alternative is to fall victim to the spiraling vortex that so many seem to now live, numbed by a society that feeds off anti-depressants and whatever else these other laws convince us will provide a solution but never do. Instead, search for the answer within the light, find the solution within the Law handed down to you, because the freedom to live that life without effort, problem-free are there as long as you place your faith in the one law that unites us.

Questions on Your Mind

You are probably thinking, "How can this be? How can the One Law provide us with the freedom of an effortless life? After all, this world changes constantly, loss and grief are inherent from the day we are born into this existence. With such heartaches faced constantly, happiness is nothing more than an illusion. How can we obtain the freedoms I speak of, when admittedly we are controlled by others and nothing can be the way we actually want it to be?"

I can only give you this advice, this light that comes from me, spawned by the Torah and through which I live my life. In my possession I have a beautiful carved chest made with the finest craftsmanship, decorated by an excellent artist that worked paints and metals magnificently. I place my most precious items into this chest, knowing that within its confines those items are secure and when I run my fingers along the wood, it provides me with a sensation that is hard to describe, as if I'm touching something rare and precious. But if you were to ask me about that chest, I'd probably say, "That old thing? Nothing more than a decayed, worm eaten slab of mahogany that will one day end up as firewood." Pretty critical and harsh you might think of something that I just described as bringing me so much pleasure. But I know that if I accidentally drop that chest, or it should fall off the back of a truck when moving, or if someone accidentally scrapes the paint by using it as a seat, that in all likelihood it will end up on the scrap heap or in the fireplace. As long as I understand and appreciate this, then every moment that I gaze upon that chest, or pull out some of my precious items from its interior, then those moments are treasured and I need nothing more than the moment at that time or place.

That chest is a metaphor for our lives. As long as I recognize it will end up as nothing more than firewood, then I can appreciate it just as it is. From the moment we are born we are already dead or dying. Everyone and everything around us suffers from a similar fate. Our bodies are merely vessels that will decay over time and fail us. But like that chest, as long as we can enjoy it while we can, fill it with our most precious moments, the love of others, and view it through the light of the Law, then every second that we have, every breath we take is a lifetime. All the problems melt away because like that chest, I recognize that eventually I will lose this battle of life, but I don't care, because I have filled that chest with enough mementos, enough memories, that I can accept that I'm already dead. As such, life becomes effortless because the light of the Law has shown me that I already have what is important.

This Shavuot, understand and appreciate exactly what we gained when that Law came down from Sinai and know that Anan ben David was right.

Shalom Aleichim

Avrom Aryeh-Zuk Kahana.


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