“Elana, I can’t.”
“Yes, you can. Repeat after me: ‘I can.’”
“I can’t.” Our eyes met. There was so much to her story, so many times along the way when she could have given up, but she didn’t. I reminded her of a few of those times. “Laura!”
“I mean, I can. I can.”
“That’s right. With G‑d’s help, you can!”Laura gave birth to her miracle baby
Three hours later, Laura gave birth to her miracle baby. She lifted her healthy son in her arms and smiled at the irony of giving birth in the same hospital where she had been told roughly a year earlier that due to her age, it would be nearly impossible to have her own biological child. “You can’t,” the doctors told her. But her faith in G‑d told her otherwise—“I can!”
The Midrash explains that before giving the Torah to the nation of Israel, G‑d asked all the nations of the world if they wanted the Torah. “What’s inside?” they asked. Upon hearing some of the laws, they flat-out refused. “We can’t do that!” One by one, each nation refused to receive the Torah. G‑d then asked the Jews. In a unified voice, without batting an eye, Israel answered, “Na’aseh v’nishma!” (“We will do and we will listen/understand.”) In other words, “We can!” Suddenly, the Midrash continues, the angels came down and placed two crowns upon every Jew’s head, one for na’aseh and one for nishma. In that instant of answering “yes,” we became royalty. We understood that we are the children of G‑d, the King. And when you are the child of the King, then as long as the King wills it, there is nothing beyond your reach. This is the privilege of answering “I can do it”—the privilege of being a Jew.
On Shavuot, there is a custom to read the Book of Ruth. Ruth was born a Moabite princess. She married a son of Elimelech (a prominent man from Bethlehem). Her husband died ten years after they wed, and she was left a destitute widow. Her mother-in-law, Naomi, told her and her sister, who had been married to Naomi’s other son, to go back to their parents’ home. Naomi had nothing to give to them, and she herself, now penniless and old, wanted to go back to her homeland, Israel. Ruth’s sister went back, but Ruth clung to Naomi. Naomi urged her to leave her, and Ruth answered, “Do not urge me to leave you, to turn back and not follow you. For wherever you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people are my people, and your G‑d is my G‑d.”1
In that moment, Ruth was like the nation of Israel standing before G‑d when He offered the Torah. And therefore she merited kingship: she married Boaz and became the great-grandmother of King David, the king of Israel. Ruth made a decision. She made a choice. She chose to leave her life behind and become the daughter of the King.Every day, we have a choice
Every day, we each have a choice. The choice to say “I can.” With G‑d’s help, anything is possible, because we are the children of the King.
Shavuot is about receiving the Torah and receiving the crown of royalty. It’s about faith and belief. Shavuot is the holiday where each one of us has the ability to acknowledge our potential and, with G‑d’s help, actualize it. It’s the day when we affirm, “I can. With G‑d’s help, I can!”