Receiving and Accepting: Musings on Shavuot
Every year, it happens again. We surround the base of Sinai, to re-receive what has been given and regiven, year-to-year.
In the span of a year, most of us haven’t changed that much. Or at least, that is what we think, when confronting these texts, ideas, people we may not have considered much in the past few months. But the truth is that perspective isn’t often the big bang, a paradigm shift, a tectonic movement of earth under feet, that rattles assumptions and forces a review of priorities. Sometimes it starts with reconsidering a word, or a person, or a word from a person.
A once-and-perhaps-future friend once told me that you can’t change people. Maybe not at their essence; maybe there’s a part of us that exists before we’re aware of existence itself, and this element is immutable, ingrained. But people change every day. They change their minds. They change careers. They look at a person differently, or see a new meaning in a text, or suddenly claim a path as destiny with a passion that no one could have foreseen.
Some people object to the cycle of holidays, to the annual repetition of the same rituals, often with no change perceived from one year to the next. But I try to take the opportunity to move in some way, to extrapolate a theme from the biblical or the talmudic meaning of the day and let it inform my life, words and actions. It’s a difficult exercise, this receiving, this accepting. The practice of it requires exercise – although the prescription is annual, bound to the calendar, repeated exercise even more often would show greater benefits.
But there’s a disconnect. If the Jewish people received the Torah at Mount Sinai, and the mountain was their wedding canopy, and God declared love for the Jewish people at that grand elevation of nature, and we entered into partnership, then the reigning metaphor of the receipt of the Torah was the declaration of relationship, a declaration of commitment and covenant, the analog of which I currently lack. But this time on the calendar comes annually, whether I’m single or not, to remind me that relationship is a value, is possible, is important.
So I think about my words, about how the use of them binds me to others in this world and to those who are beyond, how they aid me in connecting to relationships that nourish me, and how they nurture my innermost self and soul. This year, those words are different than they were in tone and register, but still serve to adhere me to history and to humanity.
I hear voices in the texts, sacred and profane, past, present and future. I have hope that they will steer me toward an enhanced ability to recognize and welcome goodness, should I be lucky enough to find it.
We are constantly in the process of receiving, whether it is Torah, or meaning, or love. But it takes an open mind, and the willingness to say, “my perception is not set in stone tablets.” I might fear restrictive laws and tremble at the foot of the mountain, but when it comes to the opportunity to accept relationship, I am certain that I will.