Tonight, the Hebrew calendar marks the beginning of Shavuot, a holiday that has its roots in ancient offerings from the barley harvest, and has come to mark the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai: the holiday of revelation. Like every milestone in the liturgical calendar, Shavuot invites us to examine our own lives and align our own intentions with a particular manifestation of holiness in time.
On Passover, seven weeks ago, I conveyed teachings passed on by a friend, a series of questions I found useful in understanding and celebrating my own exodus from the narrow, constricting places in my younger life. Today, I am thinking about personal revelation. The ancients received the Torah at Sinai, a narrative of their own journey, a guide to their development and a mission statement. Just so, this moment offers us an invitation to consider our own personal revelations: what mission has been revealed to us in the course of our lives, what mission is encoded in our souls?
I like to think of it in Star Trek terms: Captain Kirk and the crew were mandated to explore new worlds and civilizations without interfering in local cultural development (a worthy challenge and a neat trick). What is your prime directive?
To help, I want to share a teaching from \Netivot Shalom\ (“Paths of Peace”) by Rabbi Shalom Noach Barzovsky, the Slonomer Rebbe, excerpted from a translation given me some years ago by Rabbi Tirzah Firestone (and amended with a few of my own English substitutions for Hebrew words, just so you know any mistakes are my own).
The Rebbe begins by quoting from the 16th century mystic, Rabbi Isaac Luria, who wrote: “No day or hour that has ever existed from the beginning of time can be compared to any other day or hour. And in the same way, there is no comparing one human being to another since the creation of the first human onward, and no one can do the repair-work of his fellow human, which is determined by the season, the house and the unique code of that person.”
Then the Slonomer Rebbe makes use of this penetrating truth in interpreting a passage from Deuteronomy 10:12 which asks, “what does the Lord your God require of you…?” “These words,” he continues, “become the important groundwork for finding our particular mission in this world. Indeed, you need extreme clarity to discern…exactly what it is that the Source of Life is asking from you and what path is yours….[I]f we lack personal responsibility for our world or lose touch with our particular task and purpose in life, we are like travelers who get lost on the journey and forget their destination and because of this, will never reach their goal.”
He continues: “[E]ach of us needs to meditate well and dig deeply until we comprehend the unique and special task for which each us came down into this world…We are given signs by which to discern it, and sometimes we know it absolutely because it is the most difficult thing we could ever undertake…”
Citing yet another teacher, he makes the point that our answers may change depending on time and context, on what is needed (which is one reason why I value this annual opportunity). He offers the Kobriner Rebbe’s answer to this question, “What is the most important way to serve the Source of Life?” “It is the thing that the Source of Life is asking you to take care of right now. Wherever we find ourselves, whether we are in a situation of clearest light or in those dark times that none of us like, we need to go deep into ourselves to find out what they are asking of us in Heaven.”
I know my own answer like the back of my hand. My mission is to help bring awareness and choice in the place of somnolence and compulsion. I know it because whatever I write and whatever I say — no matter how much the details of character, plot or subject matter seem to me different from my previous words — when all is said and done, the underlying message is always the same. I know it because this historical moment so strongly marked by coercion, this culture so awash in the trance of self-regard and the anesthetic pleasures of consumption, calls out every day for the antidote of awareness. And I know it because, as my head aches from repeated banging against walls of denial and indifference, it is the most difficult thing I could ever undertake.
The invitation to explore revelation is being extended this very moment. What mission has been revealed to you? What is your prime directive? How do you know it? How are you living it?