Shavuot! The literal meaning of the word is somewhat elusive. It means "weeks" in reference to the weeks that passed between the first episode of the epic liberation leading to the climax at Mount Sinai. It also means oaths. There were oaths that were made – we said, "We will do and we will hear", and Hashem promised us that were chosen to be a holy people and a nation of kohanim.
On a conscious level, you don't remember either oath. You may have grown up with some of the people around you keeping the first oath. They circumcised the boys in the family without being able to give a real answer if someone were to push them to the wall and demand an explanation. They are doing, whether or not they "hear" the reasoning intellectually. You may be able to use your imagination to put your feet in the shoes of the thousands of people who throng to the Old City every Shavuot. Some of the people recall that Shavuot is one of the three festivals that the Torah calls for Aliya largely "going up (by foot) to the Bais HaMikdash. Others have no idea of what you would be talking about if you were to refer to this mitzvah. They still come. Something inside them recalls the oath.
This year, after shiur in Neve, I walked with my students from Bnos Avigail. We left at 1 a.m., but Kanfei Nesharim was far from silent. There were people heading in our direction, and people who "brought the Mountain to them" by spending the night in study. When we passed the yeshiva at the end of the street, it could have been mid-morning. The lights were on, every seat was full, and the energy was almost tangible in the Merkaz HaRav building.
After we passed the central bus station things changed. The street which had until now had its darkness and silence pierced by the sound of Torah and the light chatter of sem girls and the sprinkling of adults moving eastward now took on a different shading. Kids dressed in the uniform of “Those At Risk” appeared out of nowhere. They were heading in the same direction that we were. One of my students approached me quietly and asked if they were Jewish. (It's Ramadan, and she was on edge). I assured her that they are "mishelanu"- ours. More and more different brands of Jews mixed as we entered the Jaffa gate. It was about 2:15am when we arrived at the Jewish Quarter's community center via the shuk (market). Its narrow cobblestone road was full of “Members of the Tribe” whether they had the words or not, everyone felt like part of the holy nation of kohanim, who have the task of drawing the world closer to its Source, and drawing down blessing from above.
The reason that you hear this oath goes back to an earlier oath we all made. The Talmud tells you that before you were born you knew the entire Torah, but forgot it before you could be born. It was at that time that your soul swore to be righteous and not wicked, and that even if the entire world tells you that you are a tzadik, you will remain a rasha in your own eyes. What this means is that the subconscious drive to do what's right is a voice that you all hear. None of you ever will feel "perfect"- your soul won't let you. Neither will the soul of all of the rest of us heading towards the spiritual core of the world.
What does this tell you, back in Great Neck or L.A., or London? It tells you that there is a part of you that will keep the oath. It's up to you to find out how. You have the same commandments as I do, but your life and mine are not meant to be the same. You have to head to the same place as I do, but as yourself.
When your ancestors approached Mount Sinai, they heard lightening and saw thunder. No, this isn't a typo. Their narrow understanding that truth is what your senses tell you (“If I see it, I'll believe it”), was exposed for what it is, an illusion. Your senses themselves are only creations, and function as such. The One, who makes eyes see, is the same One who can just as easily make them hear. Your ears can hear only because that's how Hashem programmed them; anything can change at any moment. The only unchanging truth is Hashem's will. The beginning of your journey towards the truth that was revealed at Mount Sinai begins when you let Hashem's words, "I am Hashem who took you out of Egypt" resonate not to your ears, but to your soul.
It was so crowded.
It's impossible to daven at the Kotel on Shavuos. You drift as your fellow travelers, unconsciously longing to be part of the Nation and its dream, embrace you. There are the discordant sound of simultaneous minyanim praying in different styles until there is the brief respite of the silent amidah a dawn. We davened at the Churvah synagogue above the Kotel. It was still crowed enough to be, well, breath-taking. The words of praise were said in absolute silence, followed by shmoneh esreh and the singing of Hallel with the kind of unity that echoes the kind of unity that we had so many years ago. When the tefillah was over, we retraced our steps, viewed the Kotel again, and headed home watching everyone retreat into taking Shavuot's oaths into their lives.
You were there.
Find out what you can take with you.
Your book is yet unknown and unwritten
As ever, Tziporah