I love Shavuot, because it's our mountain climbing holiday! We stand at Mount Sinai and receive the gift of Torah once again.
We never hike the same mountain twice. The weather and our companions always define the experience, and whatever is going on in the world within us and the world around us often frames our time on the trail.
This is also true for the Torah we receive each year. We never hear the same story twice, because we are changing and growing. And our world is certainly in flux.
This year I've been thinking about the hardest section of a mountain climb. It's not the very first steps, because those are full of excitement and energy, even if there's a dose of trepidation. The most challenging part, in my experience, is what follows. It's the initial stretch before you've earned a water break or a view. Sometimes you can still hear cars driving on the road. It's all work and no glory. But it's the foundation of the journey, so you can't skip it.
It turns out the hardest of the 10 commandments given at Sinai may be found in a similar spot: not the first instruction but the second one. The first announces the relationship: "I am the Eternal your God who brought you out of the land Egypt." It's exciting and energizing, even if there's a dose of intimidation.
But then the second commandment explains: "You shall have no other gods besides Me." Our ancient ancestors were very concerned about idol worship. Although most of us are probably immune to the allure of the gods Ba'al and Asherah, we're upset and angry about our country's continued struggle with other forms of idolatry: the worship of power; the worship of guns; and the worship of individual rights, except, of course, when it comes to a woman's choice.
This year ascending the mountain feels like fleeing to the hills, as the waters of despair and destruction roll in. What I am holding in my heart is the possibility that the wisdom of mountain climbing can guide us. We are in that hardest stretch at the base of the hill, at the beginning of the commandments. That's the reality.
But if we can elevate what matters most - family, justice, compassion and peace - above all other temptations, we will make progress. If we can worship the source of these values, or at least commit ourselves to expanding their presence in our lives, then change will come. Step by step, the climb will grow easier. We will build momentum, hope and perspective.
May this year's climb energize us.
May the view inspire.
May we find healing and health in the hills.
Rabbi Bethie Miller writes periodic reflections on the state of our world and the Jewish project. She also writes about creative ideas for combining Jewish wisdom with our modern lives. Here are links to previous ones:
Looking for Hope at the Seder Table (4/13/22)
Happy 9th Night of Hanukkah (12/6/21)
The Healing is in the Return (8/18/21)
Time to Pray (11/2/20)
The Secret to At-One-Ment (9/27/20)
Taking a Sharp Left Turn into 5781 (9/15/20)
Waking Up One Day At Time (8/31/20)
This is Real and You are Completely Unprepared (8/18/20)
The Day is Short (6/16/20)
Spiritual Mountain Climbing Without Leaving the House (5/14/20)
Shabbat Peace, Love & Light (3/20/20)
Sources of Connection as We Practice Social Distancing (3/16/20)
Purim Has Never Felt So Resonant (3/9/20)
The Miracle of Chanukah (12/20/19)
To Be Jewish is To Be Grateful (12/2/19)
What I Learned During the High Holy Days (10/16/19)
New Year, New Project - Welcome to Sanctuary (10/3/19)