This week’s music: One Man One Heart
When I was a young boy, each year on Shavuot night my father would remind me to go outside at midnight. “The heavens are opening up,” he would say with excitement. “You’ve got to see it!” So each year at midnight I would run outside hoping that this year I would be blessed to see the skies parting. Well I guess it has taken me many years of interest and study until, thank God, I believe that I may truly experience the heavens opening up for all of us on Shavuot night. Everyone’s invited to participate in the experience.
Part of the process is obviously having a clearer and deeper understanding to what Shavuot night means to us. Let’s start with the name of the holiday itself. We tend to refer to this holiday by two names, “Shavuot,” emphasizing the end of our counting seven weeks of spiritually when we are fixing ourselves in preparation for receiving the Torah (Devarim 16.9). We also call this day “z’man matan Torateinu,” the time of receiving the Torah, as it is called in our holiday prayers and “Kiddush.” This is the aspect of this holiday which we have been emphasizing for years. In many sectors of Judaism we get together and spend the night reading from the Torah, learning it’s lessons in depth. Many of us do this all night until the crack of dawn. At that moment, we listen to the Torah reading of the events that occurred almost 3,300 years ago at the foot of Mount Sinai and to the reading of the Ten Commandments, the actual receiving of the gift of The Holy Torah.
I think it is very important to note that this holiday has three other names. “Atzeret,” is the name that our holy teachers gave to signify that we are completing the period of the exodus from Mitzraim which began seven weeks prior on the first day of Pesach. The other two names relate to the agricultural significance of this time of year. “Chag Hakatzir,” the holiday of harvest (Shmot 23.16) and “Yom Habikurim,” the day of the first fruits (Vayikra 23.20). These names, I am afraid have at times understandably gotten lost in the shuffle of our emphasis on the receiving and study of The Holy Torah. Truth be told, when our Holy Land was resettled 72 years ago, “kibbutznikim” around the country established a practice, which they still adhere to to this day, of celebrating the “chag” with a parade of tractors, children and adults in celebration and thanks to the new harvest of fruits which they were blessed to receive once again. How about those of us who don’t have trees in our year and are relegated to buy our fruits from local supermarkets? How can I connect to this aspect of the chag? How can I relate it to this great important aspect, the giving of the Torah?
Here’s a thought. Imagine you are a farmer. You planted groves of trees, investing hard earned money, time and energy over a period of time. Then for years you tended to your crops. For at least three years the fruit, if it grows, is forbidden to us from a teaching in the Torah called “orlah.” (Vayikra 19.23) In the fourth year, if indeed fruits have ripened and are ready to eat, I now must take the first fruits of my labor to the Beit Hamikdash and give them to God via a “Kohen.” What a commitment! In spite of all of my hard work, I need to connect to the reality that it all comes to us as a gift from Hashem. This is certainly also true of our own “parnassah,” income that we earn today. Work as hard as you wish, but my reality is, Hashem, is deciding and offering the sustenance which we receive. This is an important reality, “bitachon” faith in God that I need to own up to. We say it every year in our prayers of Rosh Hashanah and then somehow the thought gets lost in our daily work habits.
It seems to me that this is the connection to Matan Torah. The opening of the Ten Commandments states, “Anochi Hahsem Elokecha asher hotsaticha me’eretz Mitzraim me’beit avadim.”
I am Hashem your God who took you out of the land of Mitzraim from the house of slavery (Shmot 20.2). Rashi implies the following question. This is only 50 days after every single person standing at the foot of Mount Sinai ran away from that land. Is it possible that anyone there forgot that they were slaves to Mitzraim? Of course not! The message is to emphasize that Hashem is teaching us, no longer will you ever be a salve to another human. You will only be, “m’shuabadim,” in servitude, to Me. This means that I now am faced with my first real spiritual choice. I need to choose if I am ready to be in servitude to God. I need to choose that I recognize that everything comes from God. I need to accept that everything that happens in my lifetime, whether they are occurrences that I feel happy about or even those that can be more difficult, like the plague of corona, the loss of close friends or family, a drop in my income, it is all coming from above.
I want to strive to be on “the level of no choice.” This is the level that Rav Eliyahu Dessler teaches we were on at Har Sinai. “Kafa aleihem har k’gigit,” the Talmud describes (Shabbat 88.1). They were standing at Mount Sanai with a mountain like a roof over their heads. Scary? Yes. To those removed from, such a high spiritual reality. According to Rav Desselr, Am Yisrael at that point were like “Adam Harishon,” the first man, prior the first sin. He and Eve did not look at good and bad. They only saw “emet and sheker,” truth versus falseness. If any of us were shown two options from which to choose and we were sure beyond a shadow of a doubt, that one was absolute truth and the other was only false which would we choose? Only a fool would say give me the false behind door #2. That is what is meant by living on the level of no choice. Indeed it can seem a bit scary, but knowing that Hashem is with me every step of the way is so comforting. “Hashem yishmor tzetcha u’voecha me’atah v’ad olam,” Hashem is always watching our comings and goings from now and forever (Psalms 121). When I look at the picture of life from that perspective then accordingly, that roof over our heads at Mount Sinai was a “chupah,” a canopy signaling the invitation from Hashem to enter into holy matrimony with him by accepting His gift of the Holy Torah.
So on this night I need to be prepared to feel the heavens opening up, enabling me to not merely think of “matan Torah” as something that happened in the past, but rather something which is happening right now. I need to get to that place where I hear Hashem calling out loudly to me, “Anochi Hahsem Elokecha,” I am Hashem your God.” We’ve got 24 more hours to prepare to receive the Torah new and accept the kingship of God upon us. Make no mistake about it. It is happening for us all over again We are receiving a new Torah. The Arizal points out that the verse in the Torah at Har Sinai says, Moshe will speak and Hashem will answer with a booming voice. (Shmot 19) It does not say Moshe “spoke,” but rather “will speak.” He will be speaking to us loud and clear, May we be blessed to hear, shake in our place and listen to every sound around us.
Fortunate for us, He is not only our King and master, but also our Father in Heaven. May we all be blessed to realize the words of the Torah, “banim atem la’Hashem Elokeichem,” (Devraim 14.1). You are children to Hashem your God and feel the love which He is reigning upon us every day of our loves, in times of “simchah” and in tough times as well.