I’ll never forget the look on my father in law’s face two years ago when we stood him before the very big staircase located in the mystical city of Tzfat. He gave us such a look of skepticism. A look that said, “You have got to be kidding me if you think I’m going to climb up.”
“You can do it.” We reassured him. “Slowly, slowly, you can do it.”
I ran ahead leaping the steps two at a time to show him that it really wasn’t as bad as he thought. Up I ran and then back down. “You see, they’re not so bad.” He laughed at me and shook his head no. But slowly, slowly he made his way up.
When we arrived at the top he looked at us with pride and said with a hint of disbelief, “I did it!”
Ten years ago I left for college and I started to keep Shabbat. There was no pressure, no influential momentum making me do it. I just wanted to. I found myself at a turning point, at the bottom of the mountain, and I felt that I needed to go up. At times it was slowly, slowly taking one step at a time; other times I felt like running and leapt many steps at once.
Ten years ago I had no idea what Shavuot was, let alone that it was a Jewish holiday. Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Channukah, Pesach, Purim, Sukkot, even Tu B'shvat and Simchat Torah I knew and had celebrated in my childhood in one form or another, but not Shavuot and Tisha b’Av. You might ask why and the answer is simple: They were the two holidays on the Jewish calendar that always fell during summer vacation. I didn’t celebrate them in my home and I didn’t have a chance to learn about them in Hebrew school either.
I remember how I stayed up studying all night long with a friend for the first time in my life six years ago. Before the first rays of light burst into the sky I left her and congregated with the throngs of people flocking to the Kotel to recite the morning prayers. The scene was too intense for me, the Kotel too crowded and I quickly left the area and said my prayers at a distance on the street.
This past year I broke my new ritual of studying all night as I nursed my six week old son instead. My role, my life changed and I found myself at a different mountain, the mountain of motherhood, with new stairs to climb and challenges to overcome.
For me Shavuot is a very special holiday. It’s a holiday about personal growth and discovery. About coming closer to our Creator and surpassing mountains of obstacles and steps to climb. It’s also a holiday about unity and solitude. Because as much as the encouragement of people around you helps , in the end, it’s not what gets you up the stairs, but your own two feet. The question that’s put before us this Shavuot and every Shavuot is, “Can you find the strength and confidence in yourself to climb?”