Shavuot is almost here, and I really want some new Torah. I always do, but the world today seems to need it more than ever. Not that there was anything wrong with the old Torah, but we haven't been paying attention. Maybe we need pyrotechnics, thunder and lighting on a mountain, or some still, small voices burrowing in our ears with the insistency of a cellphone set on vibrate, to make us sit up and notice. I can only hope. I'll be staying awake all night in study, as last year, and chanting at sunrise on Friday. I gladly anticipate, if not quite enjoy, that feeling of utter depletion after too many hours awake. Sounds become louder, colors brighter; all sensory input is overwhelming. And the sanctuary in half-darkness, as I try to make sense of letters that seem to fall off the edges of their columns while my eyes attempt to focus, feels like a cocoon, safe from the city just a few steps outside.
The comfort of community and that early-morning Torah reminded me of a short piece I wrote in my writer's beit midrash class class this past winter, about the time I almost, but not quite, fell between the cars of a moving train. The prompt was "With an outstretched hand."
The subway, right before lunchtime, crowded with hungry people late to work or escaping early from classes. I see half a seat, but instead squeeze over to stand against the door between the cars where it says "Do Not Lean." I am a New Yorker, and free to lean wherever I'd like. I open the book, trying to cram in concepts faster and tighter than the space next to the woman where I choose not to sit. I breathe in—and am no longer leaning. I watch the ground move quickly by. How is that possible, while I'm standing? I shake my shoulders in anger—I had so much more to do! Will I be able to breathe, walk? What parts of me will be gone? I turn over, feeling the pain in my ankle and watching the door overhead as it swings open. I look up and see five, no, ten arms far above, reaching out. They pull me up. I am whole. The conductor screams, but I notice only the hands of my fellow riders.