We saw the thunder, heard the lightning. Though the sky was black like pitch, Mount Sinai was ablaze with “a fire that reached to the heart of heaven.” (Deut. 4:11) From amidst the fire, a voice thundered: I am the Lord your God who brought you forth from Egypt... (Deut. 5:6) And we trembled with awe and fright.
Less remembered than the voice that shook the winds and stirred the earth is the smaller voice that followed. After the ecstasy of Revelation, God instructed Moses: “Go tell the people: ‘return to your tents.’” (Deut 5:27) In other words: ‘Go home. Go back to your family and spouse—return to life as usual.’ (Cf. HaEmek Davar; Torah Temima)
Across one’s life, there are moments of great elation and moments of great sorrow. There is ecstasy and agony, deep loss and heartfelt gain. Yet most of life is not lived at one extreme or the other. We do not vacillate between weddings and funerals, between the aloneness of the Ninth of Av and the transcendence of the Day of Atonement. We live in the in-between, in that space far from the edges, among bills and groceries, dinner and work—we live at home in our tents.
This past week, some of us may have caught images of ashen-faced stockbrokers as they exited their Wall Street offices and made their way toward the trains. A trillion dollars in U.S. capital vanished in an afternoon, three trillion in two weeks. (Bloomberg) The news reinforced what we already know. Unemployment numbers are miserable. We know many who struggle—we know ourselves to struggle. When the Standard & Poor downgraded the U.S. credit rating, they articulated what most of us felt. The government has no great plan to fix our economy. They barely managed to agree on a lukewarm plan to curtail this nation’s debt. We are on our own.
Yet, even when there is little one can do, there is usually a place where one can go. One can board a train like those stockbrokers, or take a bus, or a car. From there, we might ascend from a valley or descend from a mountain, but always we find our way to the plains...where we have made our homes...where we have pitched our tents.