Last year at Shavuot I was just barely at the end of my first trimester of pregnancy. My shul and the shul up the road held a Tikkun leyl Shavuot (an all-night study session on the eve of the festival) where I taught a Hasidic text about seeing God in one another's faces. I wound up studying all night, which I wrote about briefly in the post Standing again at Sinai. What I didn't write about then, because I wasn't ready to share the news of my pregnancy with the wide world, was what it felt like to study Torah all night knowing that inside me a whole new kind of Torah was waiting to be revealed. I figured it was probably the last time for a long while that I'd be up for learning Torah all night, but I couldn't really imagine what my life would be like by the time the festival rolled around again.
Shavuot is in just a few days, and sure enough, my life has changed in ways I couldn't have imagined. (It's also remained constant in ways I couldn't have imagined.) This year I'm celebrating the festival of first fruits and revelation in a new way: I'll be spending two nights at Isabella Freedman, enjoying the Shavuot retreat with Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, his wife Eve Ilsen, and my friend Reb David Ingber. Reb Zalman has celebrated Shavuot at Isabella Freedman before (last year I posted the first in a set of YouTube videos, filmed there during a previous Shavuot, of Reb Zalman reading-and-translating the book of Ruth in his own inimitable way) but this will be my first time spending the holiday with him. Of course, I'm taking Drew with me. He's been to Isabella Freedman before, but only for an evening; this will be his first time on retreat with me.
I'm looking deeply forward to the learning and the davening and the singing: all the things I always love about spending time with my Jewish Renewal chevre (friends.) That said, I know that this retreat won't be quite like any other I've ever attended. Drew's needs are still paramount; they trump even my desire to imbibe Reb Zalman's teachings at this time of holy downloading! I'm hoping I'll be able to dance Drew around the room as we daven, play with him quietly on a quilt as Reb Zalman teaches, and if needed pass him around the room to other friendly folks who like babies. Of course, if he fusses I'm also prepared to take him out of the room or walk him around the campus...and to wake up often at night to nurse, since he's reached a stage where he doesn't sleep well away from his own familiar crib. If there is all-night Torah study at Isabella Freedman during Shavuot, I won't be able to participate in it, but perhaps I can regard our inevitable late-night feedings as a chance to receive a unique flow of blessing.
Knowing that this retreat will be shaped by my new obligation to juggle my desires with Drew's needs feels like a good encapsulation of my life right now. These days I can't focus all of my energy on learning Torah the way I used to. But I keep remembering something that my previous spiritual director, Reb Burt Jacobson, said to me last year: that Drew would be one of my greatest teachers of Torah. I remember, too, my fellow chaplains at Albany Medical Center telling me that someday when I became a parent I would enter into a whole new kind of theological education! Maybe the critical thing is that I can't focus my energy on Torah the way I used to. But I can still immerse myself in Torah: now in new ways, changed and enriched by this experience of motherhood which is changing and enriching me.
I'm looking forward to seeing what insights arise for me during this festival of Shavuot: through the study and davening and singing, and also through the continued experience of learning how to be the mother to Drew that I want to be.