I wasn’t at Woodstock, or at Sox Park when the Beatles played there. I wasn’t at the “demonstration” in Chicago during the Democratic Convention in 1968, or Obama’s inauguration. But modern technology has made it seem like we were all there, through the films, pictures, and books. These powerful, almost-mythical events galvanized everyone who was there, and touched those of us who weren’t. After all, if everyone who said they were at Yasgur’s farm was really there, the Woodstock nation would have certainly doubled. How is it that those happenings feel like they happened to us? Is it just the technology that gives us our feeling of “virtual reality”.
This week we read about the event at Sinai: It was a moment that engaged all the senses: blaring horns, thunder, lightning, “all the people who were in the camp trembled” (Ex. 19:16) Rashi said all the souls of the future were also at Sinai, receiving the commandments. That’s a pretty powerful virtual reality, thousands of years old and re-enacted every year. Did it really happen that way? Does it really matter?
Jews have a virtual reality technology that has worked for thousands of years – it’s the telling of the story. We read that God tells Moses to say to the people, “You have seen what I did….” (Ex. 19:4) That group of people may have experienced first-hand the remarkable, miraculous events of the Exodus, the crossing of the Sea, being “borne on eagle’s wings”, etc. But how was the next generation to feel that connection? How do we feel that connection today? When you tell a story over and over, with feeling, the connection gets made. And tell it we have, with passion, commitment, love, and care.
There is a musical called, “Once on this Island”. It’s a folk-tale about trust, prejudice, fate and ultimately, love. The whole cast comes together in a glorious final number, to sing “Why we tell the story”. Here are some of the lyrics:
Life is why…we tell the story
Pain is why…we tell the story
Love is why…we tell the story
Grief is why…we tell the story
Hope is why…we tell the story
Faith is why…we tell the story
You are why…we tell the story
So I hope that you will tell this tale tomorrow
It will help your heart remember and relive…..
For all the ones we leave
And we believe
Our lives become
The stories that we weave
What happened at Sinai didn’t stay at Sinai. We are woven together by the stories that are our lives. I wasn’t at Woodstock, but I was at Sinai, and I remember seeing you there, too.