From the Heart of Heaven | Reflecting on Sinai Experience
Sivan the 3rdMonth
The Month of Matan Torah – The Giving of the Torah
The Sinai Experience -From the Heart of Heaven
Part of an Ongoing Series entitled Hidden Sparks Beneath the Surface
By Elisheva Tavor aka Betty Tabor Givin
All of the months are interrelated each connecting to the next in the cycle of the seasons, the ‘round’ of the year…set up by the Creator from the beginning for our benefit to make up what we call time…each is significant to the whole…and each carries within it a special spark that lies hidden beneath the surface, waiting to be discovered…to connect us deeper to Him. This month, the month of Matan Torah, known in Judaism as the month of the Giving of the Torah is no exception!
Having celebrated Passover and the deliverance from Egyptian bondage and gone through the seven week period of counting the omer as mandated by Torah, (Lev 23:15-16), we welcome the Festival of Shavuot, meaning “weeks.” This festival is related to the celebration of the wheat harvest and the ripening of the first fruits; thus it has two other biblical names…Yom Habikurim or the“Day of the First Fruits,”and Chag HaKatzir, the “Harvest Festival.” Shavuot, along with Sukkot and Pesach was one of the three mandatory Pilgrim Festivals or Regalim(literally translated Foot Festivals) held in Jerusalem each year.
Shavuotalso means “oaths,” for on this day HaShem made a covenant with His people. The Jewish sages have compared it to a wedding, with the Torah being the marriage contract, and what an awesome wedding it was!
The Sinai Experience This event and the ones immediately surrounding it comprise the single most remarkable awe inspiring event in the history of mankind…when HaShem Himself descended upon Mt Sinai amidst the fire and smoke, the darkness, the thunder and lightning and spoke to His people pey el pey, “face to face, out of the midst of the fire”(Deut. 5:6), and called them into covenant relationship with Him!
How can we even fathom such an awesome event, one that occurred approximately 3300 years ago and bring it into our day and time? Beyond the written page, we ask ourselves, what meaning does it have for us? As we attempt to draw it down and internalize it into our lives, where do we go from here…after Sinai?
We read in Deut. 4:10-11 how the people were told to gather together at Mount Sinai so that they could hear the words of their G-d, learn to fear Him and pass these words on to their children. If we simply read the English, we miss the rich wording of the Hebrew text, “and you came near and stood“tachat,”(under) the mountain. Why under? Why did it not say they stood at the foot of the mountain? Picture in your mind’s eye a Jewish wedding ceremony with a chuppah, a wedding canopy. The Midrash brings forth a thought provoking idea for it says that the mountain waslifted upand became like a giantchuppahwith the people standingunder it. It is not clear whether this is to be taken literally or not. HaShem certainly could have performed this miracle should He have chosen to do so. The point is this…that this was a totally awe-inspiring one-time event in history….for amidst the fire, the clouds, the thick darkness and the thunder and lightning, the blaring sound of the shofar and HaShem’s powerful voice, the people entered into a marriage type covenant with their G-d on that day for they responded, “We will do and we will hear.” N’asey, v’nishma! This shows the true heart of the children of Israel with the willingness to follow HaShem even before they know what He will ask of Him.
The beautiful words of Hosea 2:21-22 come to mind here…”I will betroth you to me forever”…How breathtaking…HaShem, the G-d of the universeis speaking to His beloved, “I will betroth you to me “(for how long?) Forever. I will betroth you to me with righteousness, justice, lovingkindness and mercy. I will betroth you to me with fidelity (emunah) and you shall knowMe.”
Every year on the holiday of Shavuot we renew our acceptance of Hashem’s gift and our contract with Him!
The texts of this account are indeed chilling. You can read them in Exodus 20and Deut. 4:12. These verses indicate that perhaps they sawthe voice-But how do you see a voice?Maybe it means that they simply perceived the voice.
Or perhaps as the Midrash teaches they sawthe fiery letterscoming forth from the mountainwhich was burning “up to the heart of heaven!”Again, whether we take this literally or not, the phenomenal experience they must have witnessed was beyondamazing…fire, yet thick cloud and darkness and “burning up to the heart of heaven,”from which it came…Wow, what powerful language…thus we have the term, Aish da’at – the fire law!
The Edut, the Testimony of HaShem
The rabbis teach that HaShem created the world with the letters of the Hebrew aleph bet and some studies have indicated that there is a powerful connection between the Hebrew letters and their vibration frequency. Perhaps this in some way relates to the awesome Sinai experience, when the Creator of the Universe came down and gifted humanity with what are commonly referred to as the Ten Commandment, but more accurately should be referred to as The Ten Words, The Ten Sayings or Matters…for within them encompass all of Torah and its guidelines for every decent society for all time.
They form the moral compass of the universe and cannot be taken lightly, for they are the wordsof the Creator of the Universe, written by His own finger…etchedthrough both sides of the tablets. In Hebrew they are referred to as the Edut,The Testimony and are the same words that HaShem promises in the book of Jeremiah that will one day be etched in our hearts thru and thru. I often wonder if perhaps that etching of hearts has begun …with just the surface scratched?
When the World Stood Still When HaShem gave the Torah, “There was thunder and lightning, and a heavy cloud on the mountain…Mount Sinai was all asmoke…, the entire mountain trembled violently”….”And all the people saw the sounds, the flames, the blast of the ram’s horn, and the mountain smoking. And the people trembled, standing far-off” (an excerpt from article by Rabbi Eliyahu Touger based on insights of the Rebbe Shlita entitled ‘In the Garden of Torah’ based on Exodus 19:16-18, 20:15)
So powerful was the Voice of HaShem that the people asked Moshe to speak to them instead lest they die upon hearing G-d’s voice. The Talmud speaks of the reverberation of that voice and the effect it had throughout the world at large when it says that, “No bird chirped…, not did an ox bellow, nor the sea roar.” (Shemos Rabba 29:9) A still hush permeated all existence while HaShem spoke.
King David speaking of this awesome event says at Mount Sinai says, “the earth shook, the heavens also dropped at the presence of HaShem: even Sinai itself at the presence of HaShem the G-d of Israel.” (Psalm 68:8-9)
Interestingly the letters in the word Sinaiand those in the word sullam, meaning ladder, have the same gematria or numerical value…which is 130. Additionally, in the account of Jacob’s ladder found in Gen. 28:12, the language is similar. “And behold a ladder set up on the earth and the top of it reached to heaven.So when they were at Sinai, it was as if Sinai were a ladder to heaven reaching down to the people…much like the story of Jacob and his dream about the ladder
After Sinai, Making the Torah a Part of Ourselves
We recall the heartfelt words of the people upon hearing the voice of HaShem “We will do and we will listen.”But then what happened? After having had a true mountaintop experience, they plummeted down… down, down, into the valley…as if on a roller coaster ride; such is a familiar story with mankind.
You know the sad story of the people becoming impatient waiting for Moshe to come down from the mountain resulting in the construction of a golden calf, and how Moshe upon seeing this flagrant display of idol worship, dropped those precious tablets with HaShem’s words etched through them and they broke into pieces at his feet. The Talmud teaches that the words flew off the tablets and when that happened, they became too heavy and Moses dropped them. Whether this was recorded as an actual event or an analogy to teach us about the sanctity of holiness is not known, but what is known is that these tablets once imbued with the Spirit of HaShem lost their sense of holiness when met with such a rampant show of idolatry.
Moses pleads with HaShem for forgiveness on behalf of the people and HaShem agrees, tells him to hew new two tablets like the first ones and that He will inscribe them as He did the first. Moses then goes back up the mountain…but something significant happens along the way. Remember, Moses asks HaShem, “Let me behold your Presence!”(Exodus 33:18); HaShem graciously grants Moshe’s request, but hides him in the cleft of the rock and passes by so that only His back is visible. HaShem then proclaims His attributes to Moshe…known as the Thirteen Attributes…These Thirteen attributes are beautifully chanted in synagogues all over the world as the ark is opened and the Torah is brought out.
“Adonai, Adonai, mighty, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, abundant in love and truth, keeping troth to thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression…” (Exodus 34:6-7)
What is often missed is that Moshe is on his way up the mountain, blank tablets in hand. How would you picture he is carrying them…at his sides? Maybe, but then again he could be holding them up against his chest, hugging them over his heart as he is hearing HaShem proclaim His attributes “Adonai, Adonai, mighty, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, abundant in love and truth, keeping troth to thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression…” Perhaps the tablets themselves are then imbued with these attributes as the Ten Words are once again etched with the finger of HaShem!
When we read these precious words we can attach ourselves to His Presence and to His attributes…just as did those who stood before Him at Mount Sinai, for His words are imbued in our hearts as well for HaShem reaches down through the generations and touches each heart that is in seeking Him and we then become His witnesses!
“You stand this day all of you before HaShem your G-d; your captains of your tribes, your elders, and your officers, with all the men of Yisrael, your little ones, your wives, and your stranger that is in your camp…” “Neither with you only do I make this covenant and this oath, but with him that stands here with us this day beforeHaShem our G-d, and also with him that is not with us this day.”(Deut. 29:9,13-14)
The power and scope of His Presence there on the mountain has come down through the generations; and we, in a sense, have heard that voice today. You may be thinking, when did I hear that voice? You each heard it when you answered the call to come to Torah!
In Deuteronomy 4:39 we read, “Know today and return it to your heart that HaShem, He is G-d!“Think about it a minute… the text says to return it to your heart; this presupposes that it had to have once been in your heart, right? Was it in utero as the sages teach or was it at Sinai? The sages also teach that we who seek to follow HaShem all stood at Sinai and the written text in Deut.29 validates that you and I along with all others truly seeking Him were in some sense indeed there.
The prophet Jeremiah says, if you seek me with all your heart, then you will find me! Baruch HaShem…we sought and we found…and are still in the process of discovery! There are many more hidden sparks beneath the surface just waiting to be revealed…as Rav Dror put it, we just have to look more deeply for that light that’s hidden in the cracks. We are all broken people…we all have cracks, but as Leonard Cohen, put it, there’s a crack in everything, there’s a crack in everything…that’s how the light gets in, and I might add, that’s also how the light radiates outward into the world and into one another. We make mistakes, we fall, but we get up…we begin again and again. HaShem is gracious and longsuffering and is with us every step along the way.
Each day that we live, we have the opportunity to connect, to communicate to develop a G-d Consciousness, to “wrap our days in prayer “As we wake up in the morning , we praise Him for returning out soul to our bodies, we acknowledge His kingship and our devotion to Him; as we recite the Shema… pledging to love Him with all our hearts, all our souls and all our everything…all our all, all our being…we reaffirm our loyalty to Him and acknowledge that we are His witnesses; as we open His Torah and read and pore over His life-giving words of wisdom, we are encouraged to let them flow and continue to take root in our hearts and live them out in our lives as we reach out to others.
Shavuot in the Talmudis also called “Atzeret,” as in Shemnei Atzeret, which is added on to the 7 days of the Festival of Sukkot. The teaching is that this day is the culmination of the 7 days spent in the sukkah…we are sad to leave the sukkah so we take the sukkah with us in our heart and carry the joy of the Presence of HaShem made manifest during Sukkot into the rest of the year. We can make a similar analogy with Shavuot…for it marks not the end of a 7 day festival as in Sukkot, but rather the end of a 7 week counting period beginning after Passover and leading up to Shavuot, the Festival of Matan Torah/The Giving of the Torah. Just as we are to carry the sukkah and the joy of the Presence of HaShem in our hearts after sukkot, we are to carry the Ten Words and the awesome Sinai experience of Shavuot in our hearts and let it permeate our minds and the totality of our being as we seek to develop a G-d Consciousnessand live in covenant with Hashem each day. Chag Shavuot Sameach!