On the mountain
The Jewish year spools out in days, weeks, months, in holidays, holy days and the days in between, attuned to nature’s cycle.
The earth turns, the sun rises and sets, the moon phases from a tiny silver sliver to its glorious fullness, and we move through our lives in its path. And I marvel at the enduring comfort it brings.
So it is in a world where life’s randomness lurks, where nature’s unbridled forces threaten, the inexorable turning holds us fast.
And so it is that I anticipate Shavuot’s arrival, as spring is in full bloom, as the temperatures hint of summer. It comes on the sixth day of the Hebrew month of Sivan, the end of seven weeks, on the 50th day, counted from the second day of Passover to the first day of the holiday, known as the Festival of Weeks.
It comes at the end of the Israelites’ trek through the desert, after their escape from slavery and the miraculous parting of the sea, preparing for the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai. It comes as we contemplate, then and now, what it means to live in freedom, what it means to be responsible for ourselves and others, what it means to be counted and count.
In those weeks and days before Shavuot, the Torah asks us to think about what it means to be in the barrenness of the desert, at the mountain, what it means to find a path along the way.
It asks us to think about the view from the mountain, the distance from its base and the winding path to reach the summit. It asks us to sense the closeness of the heavens and the expansiveness of the vista.
It calls on us to consider what it means to be counted, what it means to be counted as individuals and what it means to be counted as part of something larger than our ourselves.
And it asks us to think about the laws we’ve been given and how we use them to create meaningful lives for ourselves and others.
I read the text and think about how the world looks from on high, as we trudge through our own narrow spaces or toward an elusive peak. How it is far too easy to be mired in the small things and miss out on the big picture.
I think about the need for community. Of the value of each of us separately, and how it is amplified as we become part of something larger.
And I look to the blue expanse above and think of the divine, a force of innate goodness, of right action, of kindness, of compassion, and the spark of holiness that resides in each of us.
And I think of the preciousness of a tradition with its round of holidays to mark the way and a road map for traversing it, and each of us, each in our own way, counted.