From the Heart of Heaven – Reflections on the Sinai Experience
From the Heart of Heaven – Reflections on the Sinai Experience
Sivan and Matan Torah – The Giving of the Torah, Part One
Part of an Ongoing Series entitled Hidden Sparks Beneath the Surface
By Elisheva Tavor
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, like a precious gift to be unwrapped, a gift that will enrich and enhance our lives and connect us more deeply 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 coming to the close of the seven week period of counting the omer as mandated by Torah, (Lev. 23:15-16), we are fast approaching 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 The Feast of Unleavened Bread following Pesach was one of the three mandatory Pilgrim Festivals or Regalim (literally translated Foot Festivals) held in Jerusalem each year. (Deut. 16:16)
Shavuot also 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 ketuba or marriage contract, between HaShem and His people…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 happening 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,’” literally under the mountain. Why under? 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 was lifted up and became like a giant chuppah with the people standing under 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! (Exodus 24:3-7).This shows the true heart of the children of Israel with the willingness to follow HaShem even before they knew what He was to ask of them.
The beautiful words of Hosea 2:21-22 come to mind here…”I will betroth you to me forever”…How breathtaking… HaShem, the Creator of the entire universe is 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 know Me.”
Every year on the holiday of Shavuot we are reminded of this awe-inspiring event and have the opportunity to once again renew our covenantal relationship with Him!
The texts of this account are indeed chilling. You can read them in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy chapters 4 and 5. These verses indicate that they saw the voice, but how do you see a voice? Maybe it means that they simply perceived the voice.
The Midrash teaches they saw the fiery letters coming forth from the mountain which was burning “up to the heart of heaven!” Again, whether we take this literally or not, the phenomenal experience they must have witnessed was beyond amazing…thick cloud and darkness and fire, “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 Commandments, which in the actual Hebrew text is aseret ha’deberot and more accurately should be translated as The Ten Words, The Ten Sayings or Matters…for within them encompass all of Torah and its timeless guidelines for every society on earth.
These Ten Words form the moral compass of the universe and cannot be taken lightly, for they are the words of the Creator of the Universe, written by His own finger…etched through both sides of the tablets. In Hebrew they are referred to as the Edut, The Testimony, which is derived from ed, which means witness. Moses was told to carve a wooden box to house these remarkable tablets.
This simple wooden box would be in a box within a box; a beautiful box made of pure gold…the Ark of the Covenant. This ark would take a central place in the tabernacle and would under HaShem’s direction, lead the children of Israel in their journey through the wilderness. As it led them, so may it lead us in our journey through the wilderness today.
HaShem begins His testimony by giving witness to Himself with the powerful words Anochi, HaShem Elohecha, I AM HaShem your G-d! (Exodus 20:2, Deut.5:6). He makes it very personable. In Isaiah 43:10-11 He gives the edict to Israel that in turn they are to be not only His servants but His witnesses.
HaShem promises in the book of Jeremiah that His life giving Torah will one day be written in our hearts (Jer.31:32). As we strive to carry out the directive and be His witnesses, I often wonder if perhaps that etching of hearts has begun …with just the surface barely 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. The world was in awe!
King David speaking of this breathtaking event says at Mount Sinai, “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 Sinai and 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 the language is similar. “And behold a ladder set up on the earth and the top of it reached to heaven (Gen. 28:12).
When the people stood at Sinai as a whole congregation kol khalkim (Deut.5:19) it was as if Sinai were a ladder from heaven extending down to touch each individual heart with its message from above as they stood together as one, echad.
This was a truly a one-time event, yet the power and scope of HaShem’s Presence there on the mountain has come down through the generations. His Voice is still reverberating ‘round the world which indicates that in a sense, we too 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!
Listen to the words of Deut. 29:9, 13-14. “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 before HaShem our G-d, and also with him that is not with us this day.”
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 of blessed memory teach or was it at Sinai or perhaps both? The sages also teach that we who seek to follow HaShem and His Torah all stood at Sinai and the written text in Deut.29 as quoted above 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! (Jer. 29:12-13)
Baruch HaShem! We sought and we found…and are still in the process of finding as we continue our journey and diligently seek to uncover those hidden sparks beneath the surface…those hidden sparks within the Ten Words imbedded in the Torah that we have overlooked, those hidden sparks all around us that we have unknowingly let pass us by because so often we are living on auto pilot…those hidden sparks within each of us that we have either consciously or unconsciously been afraid to acknowledge for fear stepping out of our comfort zones, letting go of our preconceived notions or fear of rejection.
Each day that we live, we have the opportunity to reconnect with our Creator and the awesome Sinai experience! As we open the Torah, read and pore over His life-giving words of wisdom, may we be encouraged to look for these sparks, to let them flow freely and take root in our hearts as we live them out in our lives and share them with others.
May we strive to carry the Ten Words and the awesome Sinai experience of Shavuot in our hearts as we let them permeate us through and through. May we daily acknowledge His Presence in our lives as we continually seek to live in covenant with Him and become His witnesses…His Ed, ד ע as spelled out with the bold enlarged letters found in the Hebrew text of the Shema. (Deut.6:4-9) Note the ayin at the end of Shema and the dalet at the end of Echad…just another of those Hidden Sparks beneath the Surface!
שְׁמַע, יִשְׂרָאֵל: יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ, יְהוָה אֶחָד.
ShemA Yisrael, Adonai Eloheynu, Adonai EchaD!
Chag Shavuot Sameach!
By Elisheva Tavor
Rosh Chodesh Sivan 5780