The High Five Point

My Canadian husband and I got married in 2009 and immediately moved to Israel for the year. Knowing we would be moving back to Boston for me to finish rabbinical school, we reached out to an immigration lawyer to get things sorted.

Bad news: It turns out that if you’re applying for U.S. permanent residency from outside the U.S. (like, from Israel), U.S. immigration staff are very unlikely to let you in to the U.S. while your application is being processed. You’re too likely to overstay your visitor’s visa to remain with your new wife! It seemed that I’d have to commute from Boston to Aaron in Montreal for an indefinite period, until his application was approved.

Then we mentioned that we would be going on a cruise from Vancouver (Canada) to Alaska (U.S.) with Aaron’s grandparents that August. “Wait a second!” our lawyer said. “Passport control when getting onto an international cruise is notoriously relaxed. Not that I’m recommending you do this, but just in case passport control lets you onto the cruise with no questions asked, you’d be allowed to stay in the U.S. and apply for permanent residency from your new home in Boston…”

So that’s how we ended up in the most high-stakes line of our lives. Aaron, me, and his grandparents Irene and Mort, may their memory be for a blessing, holding our luggage at the Vancouver cruise terminal, trying to look casual as we waited with other cruise passengers to have our passports checked. If the U.S. immigration officer at the front of the line let us all on without comment, Aaron could live with me in Boston. If the officer asked when Aaron was returning to Canada because he had an outstanding permanent residence application, well then Montreal would be his home.

We waited with his grandparents because they were the coolest cucumbers of our extended family and had a knack for adventure. When we finally got to the front of the line, we stone-facedly handed over our passports and waited. “Oh, you’re from Boston? My cousin works in a prison in Framingham, you know Framingham?” I tried to make small talk to distract him from Aaron’s passport. “Oh yeah, that’s nearby…” I said. He stamped our passports and let us through.

No whoop or holler, though. You see, there’s something called the “high-five point.” This is the point when the deed is done – when it’s officially over. We walked silently to the ship’s restaurant and sat down. Aaron and I were too nervous to eat. Then we finally heard the fog horn and began pulling away from the dock. We couldn’t imagine a way in which someone could take it back now! We whooped and high-fived and looked forward to actually living together in the same country for our second year of marriage.

This week we celebrated the holiday of Shavuot, commemorating and celebrating the receiving of the 10 Commandments at Mount Sinai. Traditionally, we learn all night the first night of Shavuot, so excited are we to have the Torah. We usually think of this as celebrating something that happened in the past, as something that is done. But the Maggid of Mezeritch, one of the first Chassidic rabbis in the 1700s, taught that the Torah wasn’t given just once. Instead, every day the words of revelation ring out continuously from Sinai and call out to us anew.

In other words, there is no high-five point of revelation. There’s no point when we get to say, that’s over and done. In fact, it’s our responsibility as human beings to continuously hear revelation, to be reminded anew each day of our role in partnering with God to make a more perfect world. We are never done listening, and we are never done taking actions to manifest the vision God shares with us from Sinai – an ethical world in which we take care of one another and all of creation.

There may be many high-five points in our lives, but Sinai is never complete. The holiday reminds us that Torah is as sweet as milk and honey under our tongues, and the ongoing, continuous work of responding to revelation is also as sweet.

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