What is the ultimate Jewish pick-up line? What is the line that forges that immediate connection, the words that provide the opening for a conversation, perhaps for a deeper relationship? Well, try this line on for size:
"Hey — didn't I see you at Sinai?"
That's the ultimate Jewish pick-up line — not because it works (don't worry — I never tried it!) and not because it's original (there is actually an online Jewish dating service called SawYouAtSinai.com).
Rather, "Saw you at Sinai" is the ultimate Jewish pick-up line because, according to our Jewish tradition, it's true. Our rabbis teach us that every Jewish soul in all of our history was present at the moment of our acceptance of the Torah at Mount Sinai — the moment that we celebrate with the festival of Shavuot, which begins this year on Tuesday evening, June 7, and continues through June 9.
Shavuot marks the culmination of a seven-week count from the Exodus from Egypt, commemorated at Passover, to our people's arrival at Mount Sinai to receive the Torah.
On this two-day holiday, traditionally one of the three biblical pilgrimage festivals, it is customary to learn Torah (even in all-night study sessions on the evening that begins the holiday); to eat dairy foods (for several reasons, among them that the Torah is likened to "honey and milk under your tongue" [Song of Songs 4:11]); and to recite the Book of Ruth, the joyous psalms of Hallel and the Yizkor memorial service.
Shavuot reminds us that we were all together at Mount Sinai. It is such a core principle of what identifies us as Jews that there is a special teaching that mentions that those who choose Judaism later in life through conversion were also included in this original, unifying moment.
And from that awe-inspiring moment at Mount Sinai, our rabbis teach us, "Vay'hi kol ha-shofar holech v'chazek m'od — that the sound of the shofar heralding this moment of Revelation has continued to get louder in every generation" — as the souls that were once united at Mount Sinai continue to live out the teachings of that first moment together.
A Moment of Deep Kinship
Now, the "Saw you at Sinai" line may not get someone a date — but it is important for a more fundamental reason: That moment of the giving and receiving of Torah that we celebrate on Shavuot was a moment of fundamental, deep kinship and togetherness.
None of the differences that have arisen since — differences of movements, beliefs, practices, observance levels, politics, geographies, affiliations or allegiances — none of these were divisive back at Sinai. It was a moment of true togetherness of the community of Israel, the moment before there were "two Jews, three opinions." It was an idealized moment of honest collaboration — of cooperation, loyalty and trust.
Nowadays, and especially on the Shavuot holiday, I look to that moment at Mount Sinai with longing. How can we retrieve that lesson of areivut — of Jewish interconnectedness and interdependence, that allows us to come together, to work together to build a stronger Jewish community, especially in these tough times?
How can we envision ourselves, together at the base of the mountain, in awe of the history being made at this moment, and be prepared to chart a new and uncertain path, sure only in the knowledge that we can rely on one another to do so?
Shavuot provides us with a fundamentally unifying, bolstering and empowering realization: That we were together at Sinai, and that if we can join together once again in a spirit of Klal Yisrael — the wholeness of the community of Israel — we will be stronger for it.
This Shavuot, perhaps even more than most, I pray that the power of our cooperation will cause the Torah to resonate even more loudly, touching our souls ever more deeply. If so, we will join together, and we will "pick up" one another, in an even deeper sense — to build a stronger, more purposeful Jewish future together.
Chag Sameach — have a wonderful Shavuot!
Rabbi Eric Yanoff is the religious leader of Adath Israel in Merion Station.