(Interrupting the story.)
Yesterday I attended a remarkable service at the church where my synagogue meets, in celebration of our fifteen years of partnership. It was the holiday of Pentecost, and our rabbi and their pastor spoke about its many similarities with Shavuot. Pentecost comes fifty days after Easter; Shavuot, originally a harvest holiday, falls on the fiftieth day after Passover. But the parallels run much deeper. Together we read Acts 2 and Exodus 19, both stories of fire and brimstone that reveal the spirit of a God Who, in each case, demands more from us than faith alone. In the Christian tradition, explained the pastor, the Holy Spirit is revealed only when Jesus' disciples are together. United, they're charged with doing good works and spreading the Word of God. The revelation at Sinai, too, happened only when we joined forces at that mountain, not just Israelites but people of every religion who ever lived or will live, according to midrash. (This interpretation terrified me as a child; I envisioned my tiny soul straining for a glimpse of the Tablets, crushed under a big rock with a million other souls.) In the Jewish tradition we're also instructed to use God's gift to help us lead holy lives--the gift, in our case, of the Torah we receive on Shavuot.
In Acts, the Spirit of God speaks through a myriad of tongues. And so does God at Sinai, where each person heard the Word according to his or her own understanding in one of the seventy languages of mankind, wrote the ancient rabbis. Both texts, pointed out the associate pastor, describe a reverse Babel--a million tongues making complete sense to their listeners! That's why this church and my synagogue love each other so much; we speak different languages, and are committed and proud to do so, but can understand the bigger one we both share. We sing our own notes but come together in harmony. I wanted to run out of that church and scream at everyone in New York and the world: What's wrong with you? See, it's possible! Just listen to each other, and life will be so much better, so filled with peace.