Fender-benders and Shavuot: Jarred into Awareness
I got into a car accident driving to work yesterday.
Coming off 128 onto the Route 16 east exit, I yielded to the traffic on Quinobequin and got slammed from behind by a Ford F-150. But besides about $5,000 in damage, a little soreness, and having a mini-breakdown about 20 minutes later, I’m fine.
It’s an exit I take daily and a drive I’ve made for years with my iPod or sports radio keeping me company. Now, however, I’ll never take that exit without remembering the accident. It’s the same feeling I get driving down Concord Avenue towards Harvard Square at the spot I was hit when my oldest child was just four days old in the back of our old Jetta.
It’s funny how everyday routines can get interrupted when something like a car accident happens. It completely changes your awareness of place and time and creates a memory that is inescapable.
With all this in mind, perhaps it’s appropriate that Shavuot is coming this weekend. If any singular experience completely realigned the Jewish people and Jewish history, it was standing at Mount Sinai.
Judaism is a religion of routines. Its holidays, rituals, prayers, and celebrations can be very formulaic and scripted. Think keva, not kavanah. Structure breeds intention, not vice versa. Once in a while, though, routines need a little interruption, a little jarring. Just doing it the same way every time can breed complacence, boredom, or just an atrophying of your spiritual muscles.
With that being said, the coolest innovations in Judaism are the ones that create new meaning in old structures.
Shavuot is an overlooked holiday. Many people completely ignore it, or give it the cursory blintz-and-cheesecake treatment and happily chirp about Ruth’s passionate assertion to Naomi that “your people shall be my people, and your God my God.” Woo-hoo. They might also get all excited about the giving of the Ten Commandments. But for a lot of folks, it’s a holiday that gets short shrift.
So this Shavuot, get out and do something dramatically different. Stay up all night. Go dairy-crazy. Be counter-cultural and go meat-crazy with a Shavuot barbeque. Go to shul and listen to the Ten Commandments. Watch The Prince of Egypt and sing out loud with all the songs. Make a movie about Ruth and Boaz’s mysterious grainpile encounter in iMovie and post it on YouTube. Make fake bikkurim baskets with your kids.
Just do something different.