A few weeks ago, we celebrated the Jewish nation’s release from the shackles of Egyptian slavery, thousands of years ago. During their forty-year journey that followed, the Jews faced a multitude of dangers and difficulties, but they also enjoyed great pleasures and triumphs.
A recent Peanuts cartoon strip by Charles Schultz showed three children and a puppy sitting on an oversized, red couch. Lucy, the little girl says, "Can you read that bit again about Moses parting the sea?" Charlie Brown responds and reads the following, "And Moses stretched out his hand over the sea…and the children of Israel went into the midst of the sea upon the dry ground". Linus then says, "How do you suppose Moses knew when it was safe to go across?" The puppy, Snoopy, thinks to himself, "His dog probably went across first…" The point is that every creature sees himself as the most valuable instrument in G-d’s vast, eternal plan.
The Jewish holiday of Shavuot is now here. What actually happened on Shavuot? Most children come home from Hebrew-school singing songs about Moses delivering the Ten Commandments and show artwork depicting him carrying the two tablets. Did we indeed get the Torah on Shavuot? No, not really. We actually received it forty days later, on the 17th of Tamuz. What did we get on Shavuot? The answer is Revelation (of the Divine Presence), or Gilah Shechinah, in Hebrew.
How did the Jewish nation react to this awesome, unparalleled event in the desert? The Midrash says that when the nation of Israel witnessed the lightening and heard the thunder, saw the mountains shaking, and heard the voice of G-d, they could not cope. It is said that their souls died and had to be revived. In the parsha Bamidbar, the Book of Numbers, which we read this week, the material deals chronologically with the journeys of the Israelites at the base of Mount Sinai and with the after-shock. Some might call this post-mystical stress syndrome. And yet, we survived!
As American Jews, what about this historical event can we relate to? First of all, we live in the United States, which is the "land of the free and home of the brave". This is the land where the government is based on the principle that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, and among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness."
Furthermore, consider two basic human needs. One is free will – each person has total choice of his actions. Two is individuality – the ability to express one’s unique self. So, how can we reconcile these needs with the fact that at Har Sinai, with an estimated 2 million men, women and children, the Bible says we were one homogenous entity? Described in the Bible as a "people of one heart, one soul, and one mind"? Additionally, it is recorded that when G-d offered the entire Torah to the masses, their response was, "Na’ase Venishma – We will do and we will listen". Basically, we’ll take it, no questions asked. "Does this mean that there was no free will, no individuality? Does this mean that even though there is one G-d and one Torah, that there is only one way to accept it?
Perhaps on the surface it might appear that way. However, if we look deeper into the symbolic and mystical framework of what our commitment contract entails, we are told that if one Jew had not been present at the Revelation, the Torah would not have been given to us. This is truly incredible! The Sages tell us that every Jew has a connection to a single letter in the Torah, which forms the root of a person’s soul and gives a particular Jew a unique pathway. This certainly indicates that every single Jew is attached to G-d’s blueprint. The Talmud, states, "If someone sees a large gathering of Jews, it is a blessing, because there is diversity, which means that everyone is unique. Just as each person’s face and mind is different from everyone else’s, it indicates that every single creature is totally special. Therefore, one can surmise that it is imperative to respect the legitimacy of each person.
The courage that our people demonstrated to change and accept life’s challenges and blessings has inspired many literary works among many nations. In a book entitled "Another desert - Jewish Poetry of New Mexico" we find the contemporary voices of converso Spanish settlers, merchants and traders of the Old West, along with urban refugees, who established a new Jewish frontier. The book is filled with poems, describing Jewish life in the Diaspora, Holy Days and Blessings, Ancestors and Mikvah. The range of this book includes everything from the color of Shabbos candles against the turquoise sky and the sounds of the shofar along the Rio Grande to the taste of chiles, apples, cheesecake, and blintzes. In essence, these literary works of faith and the beauty of the desert attest to the survival of tradition and memory and give us inspiration. One of the poems reads as follows:
By Josh Rappaport
Did the spirit of Hashem
come down and visit
the little room
where we waited
through the night
for dawn’s revelation?
Did angels watch over
the stained-glass windows of the shul,
where – over coffee,
cake and rugelach –
we pondered the sleep
of our ancestors?
Did the birds,
from our questions
at the sun’s purple showing
sing with new inspiration?
And did that light
that played round my head
the next day,
after noon, when I woke,
arise from someplace
other than the sun?
Another contemporary example of the Torah being transported to another dimension occurred recently, when the late Israeli astronaut, Ilon Ramon, carried a miniature Torah into space. Who knows what direction the future will hold, especially after 9/11 and other world events? But one thing is for sure - that G-d promised that as long as we stay united and keep the Torah, peace will flourish in the world.
Copyright Moshe P. Weisblum, All Rights Reserved.
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