My kids don't understand why Shavuot – the holiday commemorating the giving of the Torah -- makes me cry. They know that the Torah is a gift, but it's a gift they take for granted. It's such an integral part of their lives that they almost don't think about it. They are completely intertwined. As it should be.
But for those of us for whom this has not always been true, Shavuot is a true miracle. Receiving the Torah brings a renewed joy. We are able to contrast a life with Torah to a life without. And we recognize the blessing clearly. From darkness to light. From the profane to the holy. From the banal to a life infused with meaning and purpose.
As baalei teshuva, people who have chosen to become observant later in life, we identify with the story of Ruth read on this holiday. We understand her choice to cast her lot with the Jewish people. Was there really any other one to make?
As our children move through elementary school, we parents are frequently called upon to come to their class plays. They're always at inconvenient times, they usually start late, and my children frequently have only one line. I dread going.
Yet when I sit in the audience, something amazing happens. I begin to cry. Not because the dialogue is so corny and the acting is so bad, but rather because I am so moved to be there. How did I get here? I wonder to myself.
The workings of the Almighty stun me -- how His hand plucked me out, picked me up and dropped me down, smack in the middle of this community. And I look at my children -- and all the children -- and I can't stop crying.
It's such a gift. So although I have my challenges with Shavuot -- too old and too tired to stay up all night, too much cheesecake -- I don't have any problem focusing on the miracle of receiving the Torah.
We are exhorted to try to imagine that we are receiving the Torah fresh every Shavuot, in fact every day, just as our ancestors did at Mount Sinai. Luckily for me, since my imagination is limited to more prosaic wanderings among unpaid bills and unreturned phone calls, I don't have to imagine. I know the experience of receiving the Torah fresh and new. I know first hand the awe and wonder.
I don't take it for granted, but Shavuot reminds me yet again of the miracles the Almighty has done for His people and for me personally, of the gift He has given to me in the wisdom of His Torah and in the community of His people.