My visit to Mount Sinai taught me that while we often bring home souvenirs from our travels, sometimes we’re meant to leave something behind.
Before I left for Egypt, a friend asked if I would carry with me to Mount Sinai a small remembrance of her mother, Dorothy, who had died during the previous year. It was a mezuzah (a tiny scroll with words from the Torah), and it was wrapped in a piece of cloth that had once been part of her mother’s wedding dress. Dorothy had been the daughter of a rabbi, my friend said, and though she had not been religious as an adult, Judaism had been part of the fabric of her bones. “Besides, my mother went to a nursing school named Mount Sinai,” she said. “I think this is meant to go with you.” And then she tucked a sheet of paper with her mother’s name on it into the package and handed it to me, with instructions to bring it back to her upon my return.
I carried that small package with me all the way to Egypt, and when we got to Mount Sinai, I slipped away from our guided tour to find a spot on some rocks overlooking St. Catherine’s Monastery. Above me loomed the stark expanse of the holy mountain, and below the ancient walled settlement that had stood at its base since the sixth century. I unwrapped the mezuzah from its cloth, tucked the sheet of paper bearing Dorothy’s name under it, and let them sit on the rock for a few minutes, baking in the hot desert sun. And then I had to hurry and wrap them up again, as the tour was leaving and I didn’t want to be left behind.
Now here’s the curious part. When I got back to my hotel later that day, I double-checked to make certain I still had the mezuzah with me, and I realized that I was missing something. The small sheet of paper with Dorothy’s name on it was gone. I had inadvertently left it on the mountain.
Now I wouldn’t dare leave a piece of litter at a holy place (very bad karma, that). But I like to think that there was a reason that Dorothy’s name had gotten left behind. It’s probably still there, in fact, for in a place where it hardly ever rains, a piece of paper could last for some time. It pleases both me and my friend to think of Dorothy—daughter of a rabbi and relative of many who had been killed in the Holocaust—having a presence on that holy mountain.
Like I said: When we travel, sometimes we’re meant to leave something behind.