It's commencement time -- a time evoking hot, sunny afternoons, long, shapeless robes, and even longer, often boring speeches. Nostalgic and hopeful parents. Confused and hopeful kids. A major hurdle over; "real life" about to start.
Teenagers frequently find adolescence as painful and tortured as do their parents. They can't wait to escape. But as escape leads to even greater and more complicated challenges, high school becomes a fond memory, a memory of a simpler time where all their needs were taken care of. Our children chafe against such dependence and crave it when finally pushed out the door.
We both resent and enjoy our dependence.
This late spring mood coincides with the experience of the holiday of Shavuot. The Jewish people in the desert were like dependent teenagers. The manna fell from the sky every day to nourish them, requiring the most minimal effort on their parts. (Reminds me of watching my children standing in front of an open refrigerator!) They lived with constant awareness of their complete dependence on the Almighty. And just as constantly, they rebelled against it. Again like teenagers, as described in a great parenting book "GET OUT OF MY LIFE but first could you drive me and Cheryl to the Mall?" Like our growing children, we, the Jewish people, are conflicted. We both resent and enjoy our dependence.
And we're equally ambivalent when it comes to "commencement," when it comes to receiving the Torah and accepting responsibilities. We wanted that adult life of privilege so badly and now that we got it... Now it's up to us. Now our daily choices really count. Now our lives are what we make of them and there's no one else to blame. Mom and dad (read "God") sure sound good right now.
If you watch the faces of the graduates, a myriad of emotions flickers across them -- pride and joy, fear and anxiety. Will I be able to make it on my own? If you watch the faces of the Jewish people on Shavuot, you can see the same reactions.
Do we really want the privilege of freedom and independence? Do we really want the liberty of choosing on our own? Do we really want to be responsibility for our choices? Do we want our choices to count?
Our souls sure do. That's what meaningful growth and real life is all about. Embracing that responsibility is the opportunity Shavuot affords. It's commencement -- time to begin.