May 24, 2012
Beyond time and place to find our place
This week we celebrate the festival of Shavuot, commemorating a moment, 3200 years ago, when we all stood together, beneath a wind-swept mountain, deep in the Sinai desert. The power of that moment was that, more than at any other time in our history as a people, we truly became one; one people, experiencing a desire to receive and to share together.
There is a legend about Moses Mendelssohn, the grandfather of the well-known German composer, who was far from handsome. Along with a rather short stature, he had a grotesque hunchback.
One day he visited a merchant in Hamburg who had a lovely daughter named Frumtje. Moses fell helplessly in love with her. But Frumtje was repulsed by his misshapen appearance.
When it came time for him to leave, Moses gathered his courage and climbed the stairs to her room to take one last opportunity to speak with her. She was a vision of heavenly beauty, but caused him deep sadness by her refusal to even look at him.
After several attempts at conversation, Moses shyly asked, “Do you believe marriages are made in heaven?”
“Yes,” she answered, still looking at the floor. “And do you?”
“Yes, I do,” he replied. “You see, in heaven at the birth of each boy, G-d announces which girl he will marry. When I was born, my future bride was pointed out to me. Then G-d added, ‘But your wife will be humpbacked.’
“Right then and there I called out, ‘Oh G-d, a humpbacked woman would be a tragedy. Please, give me the hump and let her be beautiful.’ “
Then Frumtje looked up into his eyes and was stirred by some deep memory. She reached out and gave Mendelssohn her hand and later became his devoted wife.
Sometimes, we have a sense that we have been there before. On our journey through life, we often experience the feeling that we are not traveling a new, undiscovered path, but rather coming back to where we have somehow been.
Having left the festival of Pesach behind, the Jewish people finds itself eagerly anticipating the Festival of Shavuot, when we celebrate the giving of the Torah at Sinai over 3200 years ago. And somehow, there is a feeling that we have been there before; that once, so long ago, we all stood together at the foot of a lonely mountain, deep in the heart of the desert, ready to receive… what?