This year I spent a very non-traditional Shavuot on the road, driving north on U.S. Highway 93 from Las Vegas to Wells, Nevada, a drive of almost 400 miles.
When we planned this trip, we knew it would take us over the holiday. We were in Vegas at the time visiting family, and although we thought about trying to find a tikkun (study session) at night or a service in the morning, we ended up just resting and taking it easy.
And so while I didn’t observe a traditional Shavuot this year, I have spent some time reflecting back on how this whole two week adventure was a revelation in and of itself. It was a trip of new experiences: our first family camping trip, the first time I went camping where I was the responsible one, first time to many parts of this amazing country. I have overturned old assumptions I held and discovered new skills I didn’t know I had, It was a trip of reconnecting with family and friends.
[On that last point, it was also a trip of surprises. An unplanned detour took us to wonderful Flagstaff, Arizona–my college roommate whom I haven’t seen in over a decade and currently lives in Tuscon saw on Facebook that I was headed toward the Grand Canyon. It turned out that he and his family were going there as well, although we would miss each other at the Canyon by a day. We ended up altering our plans to meet up with him in Flagstaff for a morning.]
And my Torah through this trip of revelation? The road atlas I purchased before we left. In this age of GPS even on your smartphone, an atlas seems like a relic, a novelty. I don’t even know if my kids have seen a road map before. But on a trip like this, a road atlas is a necessity, and not just because we drove through places without cell service.
GPS is best when you know exactly where you are going, and only need the narrow view. A map allows you to wander, consider alternatives and see the big picture. A map you can actually read, spend time with, contemplate. A map allows you to see the interconnectedness of locations over vast spans of distance.
On Shavuot we celebrate Torah and revelation, and how they are meant to orient our lives. The Torah is a life map, meant to be read, contemplated, acted upon. But the Torah is just that, a guide–it requires our agency and our ability to be open to discovery. We look at the big picture, but we also make choices. We make decisions, but must be open to the unexpected. Life is not just Torah. Life is Torah plus experience.
On this non-traditional Shavuot spent on a road trip, I understand how a road map can tell you somethings and not others. Lines and symbols don’t tell you about the beautiful mountains and valleys we drove through. The map didn’t include the tiny non-denominational chapel on the side of the road in Arizona. The cow lumbering down the highway in southern Utah was definitely off the charts.
Without the atlas, we would be completely lost. But without looking past the atlas, we wouldn’t fully see what it is possible to discover. Revelation requires both.