June 3, 2012
Now that the cheesecake and blintzes are behind us, I started thinking about a few non-dairy matters that came to mind over Shavuot.
While we were reimagining that earth-shaking moment when we stood together beneath Mount Sinai, I began to wonder what it would have been like if I’d actually been there at the original Matan Torah with my crew. The very thought stirred the beginnings of a debilitating headache.
Sadly, my creative imagination cannot control itself, so it carried me back to the desert despite my protestations.
I found myself among an endless sea of men and women swaying in a spiritual trance, their hands reaching heavenward. A palpable energy charged the atmosphere. We were quaking in anticipation. This was a defining moment for us as a people. Nothing would ever be the same.
But I looked down and the bubble burst. None of this seemed to register with my boys. Not a blip of expectation was pulsing through their veins.
Rather than awaiting their birthright with open arms, they were instead indisposed, which is to say they were verbally sparring. At first, I tried to ignore them, keeping my focus on Moshe’s gradual descent from above. Then I pretended the boys belonged to another family, but did not expect to pull that one off for long.
Meanwhile, their high velocity harrumphing towards one another continued. I scanned the crowd, anxious that others were disturbed by the ruckus, but no one seemed to be. Shrinking into myself anyway, I could not help but note that all the other children were silent.
Maternal curiosity being what it is, I listened in to hear what my sons were saying, distracting myself from the scene at the top of the mountain. I was stunned by the wealth of possible ways one can express the fond sentiment “my brother is stupid” in English. I shhed them, but that did no good. They were either ignoring me or simply could not hear over the bolts of lightning.
Oh boy, I thought, steeped in my own embarrassment. They have no shame. It’s not like we were back home in our own tent. Every member of our people – generations past, present and future — was huddled together with us, and my crew was missing it all. Quickly, I put these considerations by the wayside as the situation deteriorated.
The name-calling had descended into the realm of poking and prodding, while the crowd – luckily – had eyes only for those heavy tablets Moshe was now schlepping down from heaven in our name. For a moment, I was dismayed when I learned that “thou shalt not needle thy brother” had not made it to the Top Ten.
Before I could cry out “I will do and I will listen,” we reached rock bottom over in our corner. The poking and prodding had transformed into full-blown wrestling. I was deeply grateful that the crowd was busy accepting the commandments, leaving me reasonably convinced that we had not been noticed at all. Still, I dipped my head in shame.
Most painful to me, though, was that the boys had squabbled their way through the show of a lifetime. I mourned the fact that so much had come and gone without a moment’s acknowledgment by their quarrelling selves.
Then, suddenly, I caught the eye of another mother in the crowd. She arched her eyebrows at me in solidarity, and I realized she had seen everything. But wait. She began to shrug her shoulders, and with the swoop of her palm presented to me the truth I’d been unable to see before: her children, too, were in the midst of a sibling confrontation.
Huh, I wondered.
It was almost contagious. One by one, mothers began to eye one another, each of us silently saying the same thing. Funny, how we were all blinded by our own children’s antics. Looking around more clearly, I took note that the only perfectly behaved children were the ones who were allowed to bring a DS to the ceremonies.
Turning back to the spiritual scene at hand, I let go of my embarrassment and took it all in, briefly allowing myself to be filled with the power of the awesome moment. Shame, I realized, that I’d let myself be so distracted.
As we began to scatter and head back to our tents, I overheard my boys say to one another, “Guys, wasn’t that cool?” as if they hadn’t been fighting the entire time. As if they’d witnessed anything.
It is possible, I realized, that they’d been paying attention after all, that I’d only magnified their little spat into something dramatically Shakespearean…or biblical.
“Yeah, bro,” I hear them continue. “Let’s go get some ice cream.”