It’s hard to imagine a connection between Shavuot and the Kentucky Derby, but indeed they are linked. Sinai and Churchill Downs are not so distant from each other as we might imagine. When watching the reportage of the Race for the Roses it was brilliant manipulation. Thousands of folks were kept entertained for hours (Two weeks if one counts the Kentucky Derby Festival) strutting, dining, drinking, betting, showing off ascots and millinery creations while patiently waiting for ‘The two most exciting minutes in sports’. A cultic bash. An industry. A world-wide phenomenon has been created around the blink of a horse race. The entire celebration comes down to a hundred and twenty seconds, yet the festivities go on and on, year after year. It is masterful how a moment in time is stretched into an extravagant gala.
It's not a horse race, but we too have a moment in time that comes after a scheming drama of fifty days. From Pesach to Shavuot, we count the omer. Daily we acknowledge our approach to a holy spot and revelation with a spiritual count down. It’s been thousands of years and yet we still faithfully observe, with greenery, blintzes and all-night Torah study, the spectacular union of divinity and humanity that occurs in an instant atop a desert mountain. Our Torah delivered to our ancestors in a majestic, heavenly flash after a long, sacred tease.
The psychology behind The Derby and Mattan Torah is clever and instructive. The participants are jockeyed into a frenzy not by the skies opening up, not by the thoroughbreds racing to a finish line but by the suspense stirred up over time. The fleeting instant is transformed into an ecstatic event and herein is the message for us. It is not the meal alone but the aromas wafting out of the kitchen that make a routine dinner a sumptuous banquet. It’s not the cruise alone that brings excitement but the packing and shopping that creates the memorable vacation. It’s not the forty-eight hours of a Simcha weekend alone that gives us a thrill and joy, but the months of preparation. Imagine a life when even good things are thrust upon us with no opportunity to anticipate. Imagine if fate simply said, ‘Here it is. Have a good time’.
The party planners at Churchill Downs and our sages from Sinai understood well that a moment in time doesn’t fill the human spirit. There needs to be a pregame show before bringing out the headliner.