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Torah Attitude: Shavuous and the Testimony from Mount Sinai
|April 8, 2003
Shavuous is called the ‘time of the giving of our Torah’. A kitchen gadget offers us proof of the Divine origin of the Torah. By following the instructions and commandments contained in the Torah, we will gain the maximum benefit of the world around us. The continuity of the Torah depends on each generation to preserve the teachings of the Torah and to transmit the instructions to the next generation. It is a common accepted norm in the whole world to trust and believe witnesses. The entire Jewish nation experienced the revelation at Sinai with their own eyes and ears. The experience at Sinai was unique in the history of the world. One of the reasons that G’d did not heal Moses was that it should not be possible later to say that an eloquent speaker manipulated the Jewish people. We have an opportunity to strengthen our belief every year on Shavuous as each of us accepts the Torah as if we were standing at Mount Sinai.
The time of the giving of our Torah
The festival of Shavuous is called “the time of the giving of our Torah”, as we say in our Amidah prayer on Shavuous. This festival does not just commemorate the historical event that occurred in the year 2448 when G’d gave the Torah to the Jewish people at Mount Sinai. Rather, it describes the process of accepting the Torah anew each and every Shavuous, as if we were at Mount Sinai at the first giving of the Torah. Just as the festival of Succos is called “the time of our gladness” and describes our experience of “gladness” every year on the festival and does not refer to an historical event that happened many years ago. In the same way Shavuous is a time for us to accept the Torah, just like our forefathers accepted the Torah at Mount Sinai.
The kitchen gadget
In order for us to accept the Torah with sincerity, it requires that we strengthen our belief in the Divine origin of the Torah. Rabbi Yechezkel Levenstein, one of the great masters of mussar, once brought a kitchen gadget into one of his mussar talks. He showed the gadget to his students and exclaimed, “this is a proof of the Divine origin of the Torah”. As he saw the startled look on the faces of his students, he explained. My wife received this gadget as a present from a relative. When she was trying to use it, she could not figure out how it worked. But after she found a little booklet with instructions, she discovered how easy it was to operate.
The manual for living
Every producer of a product, machine or gadget, will usually supply instructions or some form of manual. In this way the buyer (or consumer) will know how to operate it to its best use. Is it not obvious, said Rabbi Yechezkel, that G’d, the Creator and Inventor of the universe, supplied us with a detailed book of instructions? The Torah is our manual of how to use the world to get the maximum benefit. The Torah is our manual for living. By following the instructions and commandments contained in the Torah, we will gain the maximum benefit of the world around us.
From generation to generation
The Torah instructs us not to forget the great event at Mount Sinai, when all of the Jewish people stood in front of G’d and received the entire Torah through Moses. “Only beware for yourself … lest you forget the things that your eyes saw… and make them known to your children and children’s children, the day you stood before HASHEM your G’d at Horeb (another name for Mount Sinai) … (Devarim 4:9). The Torah instructs us to give over its teachings to our children and grandchildren. The continuity of the Torah depends on each generation to preserve the teachings of the Torah and to transmit the instructions to the next generation. It is our responsibility and obligation to be a link for future generations to pass on to them what we have received from earlier generations.
As the Sefer Hachinuch writes in his introduction, it is a common accepted norm in the whole world to trust and believe witnesses who give evidence about an experience they have had. The more witnesses who testify the stronger is the evidence of the truthfulness of an event. Every judicial system relies on evidence to judge and punish those accused of criminal conduct. Even more so, when parents give over to their children what they have experienced, or what they have been told by their parents of their experience, this can be accepted as the truth. The more parents who give the same evidence about an event, the more validity the event will acquire by their children.
The testimony from Sinai
For this very reason, says the Sefer Hachinuch, G’d gathered the complete nation of the Jewish people, 600,000 males from the ages 20 to 60, together with all others, young and old alike, to witness this great event. This was the most important event in the history of the Jewish people. As it says (Shemos 19:9), “G’d said to Moses, ‘Behold! I come to you in the thickness of the cloud, so that the people will hear as I speak to you, and they will also believe in you forever.” The entire Jewish nation experienced the revelation at Sinai with their own eyes and ears. They were witnesses who gave testimony to their children how every word of the Torah was given by G’d to Moses. This is how the belief in the giving of the Torah through Moses has been passed on with firmness of belief from generation to generation. (It is interesting to note that Judaism is the only religion where the relationship between the prophet and G’d was witnessed by the whole nation!)
Experience at Sinai
The experience at Sinai was unique in the history of the world. Three days of preparation were necessary for the Jewish people to receive the Torah so that they were mentally and spiritually ready for the revelation of G’d. On the third day, G’d descended in the sight of the entire Jewish people on Mount Sinai. As it says, “on the third day when it was morning, there was thunder and lightning and a heavy cloud on the mountain, and the sound of the shofar was very powerful, and the entire people that was in the camp shuddered. (19:17)… The entire people saw… and trembled and stood from afar. Everyone present was blessed with prophetic vision so that they could personally experience what G’d spoke. As it says, “You have seen that I have spoken to you from heaven.” (20:19)
When G’d first wanted to send Moses down to Egypt, one of Moses’ reasons for not going was that he did not have clear speech. “I am heavy of mouth and heavy of speech” (Shemos 4:10). Asks the Ramban, why did G’d not heal Moses? This speech defect could have easily been cured by G’d. One of the reasons that G’d did not heal Moses was that it should not be possible later to say that an eloquent speaker manipulated the Jewish people.
We have an obligation to our children to teach them that the Torah is of Divine origin given in totality by G’d to Moses at the revelation at Mount Sinai. Every year on Shavuous we have an opportunity to strengthen this belief. As we hear the reading of the Torah with the Ten Commandments, each of us should personally accept the Torah as if we were standing at Mount Sinai. In this way, we have a personal share in the eternal Torah.
These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shema Yisrael Torah Network