Shavuot is a funny holiday. You would think since it “commemorates the giving of Torah at Mt. Sinai” it should be the biggest bash of the year, but somehow it gets second billing to other headliners in the Jewish calendar. Passover is a great action narrative, celebrating the New Year is a no-brainer, but Revelation—the idea of a cataclysmic experience of Truth—is a hard thing to get our heads around.
We tell our kids about Moses and the Ten Commandments; we stay up all night studying Torah to show our appreciation for its gifts; we eat cheesecake; but the whole concept of “commemoration” suggests that Revelation is something that happened back then. Long ago. We acknowledge that the Torah came down to us through the generations one way or another, so this is the origin story, stuck in the mists of time—not something pressing into the contemporary dimensions of our lives.
Yet there is another traditional strain of our theology that runs counter to this idea of “pastness.” It says that the soul of every Jew—past, present, and future through all time—was there at Sinai for that moment when all was revealed. This transhistorical notion is compelling to me as a metaphor, but taking it seriously requires a mysticism that I can’t say I possess.