As we stand before the holy Shabbos and in the second of the three days of “limitations” (hagba’lah) before the festival of Shavuot I wanted to share with you some thoughts and issues related to the upcoming chag.
We all know, even though the Torah never says this outright, that the festival of Shavuot is really about the witness event at Sinai. We refer to this colloquially as “the Festival of the Giving of the Torah”, but in reality, we are referring to the once-in-history event known as “the Revelation”.
The basis for the truth of the revelation is one of the many topics that I discuss in Core Emmuna 2 “G-d & Me”, which will be – with HaShem’s help – available for purchase soon.
On this day, some 3329 years ago, our entire people stood at the foot of the mountain “Sinai” and had the most unique experience that the world has ever seen. We, the entire people, “saw” and heard the words of The Living G-d as He spoke to us and forever changed our destiny relative to the rest of the world. At this point in time, we became “the chosen people”.
However, our sages, ob”m, tell us that this once-in-history event was not private, and we didn’t get it because HaShem offered it to us in secret. Just the opposite is true! He offered it to EVERYONE, but we were the only ones that accepted it. Listen to the words of our sages in the Midrash (Sifri on Devarim (Deuteronomy) 32:2
וַיֹּאמַר ה’ מִסִּינַי בָּא וְזָרַח מִשֵּׂעִיר לָמוֹ הוֹפִיעַ מֵהַר פָּארָן וְאָתָה מֵרִבְבֹת קֹדֶשׁ מִימִינוֹ אשדת [אֵשׁ דָּת] לָמוֹ.
And it says “HaShem from Sinai came, and rose-up from Se’ir to them, He appeared from the Mount of Para’an, and with Him of the tens of thousands of holy ones (angels), from His right hand a fiery Writ was given to us.
ד”א ויאמר ה’ מסיני בא – כשנגלה המקום ליתן תורה לישראל לא על ישראל בלבד הוא נגלה, אלא על כל האומות: בתחילה הלך אצל בני עשו ואמר להם: מקבלים אתם את התורה? אמרו לו: מה כתוב בה? אמר להם לא תרצח. אמרו: רבש”ע, כל עצמו של אותו אביהם רוצח הוא, שנ’ והידים ידי עשו, ועל כך הבטיחו אביו, שנאמר בראשית כז על חרבך תחיה. הלך לו אצל בני עמון ומואב ואמר להם: מקבלים אתם את התורה? אמרו לו מה כתוב בו? אמר להם לא תנאף. אמרו לפניו: רבש”ע, עצמה של ערוה להם היא, שנ’ ותהרן שתי בנות לוט מאביהם. הלך ומצא בני ישמעאל, אמר להם: מקבלים אתם את התורה? אמרו לו מה כתוב בה? אמר להם לא תגנוב. אמרו לפניו: רבש”ע, כל עצמו אביהם לסטים היה, שנא’ והוא יהיה פרא אדם, לא היתה אומה באומות שלא הלך ודבר, ודפק על פתחם מה ירצו ויקבלו את התורה, וכן הוא אומר תהלים קכח יודוך ה’ כל מלכי ארץ כי שמעו אמרי פיך. יכול שמעו וקיבלו? ת”ל יחזקאל לג ואתם לא תעשו, ואומר מיכה ה ועשיתי באף ובחימה נקם את הגוי אשר לא שמעו, אלא אפילו שבע מצות שקיבלו עליהם בני נח לא יכלו לעמוד בהם, עד שפרקום ונתנום לישראל. משל לאחד ששילח את חמורו ואת כלבו לגורן, והטעינו לחמורו לתך ולכלבו ג’ סאים, והיה החמור מהלך והכלב מלחית. פרק ממנו סאה ונתנו על החמור, וכן שני וכן שלישי. אף כן ישראל קבלו את התורה בפירושיה ובדקדוקיה, אף אותם ז’ מצות שקיבלו עליהם בני נח לא יכלו לעמוד בהם, עד שפרקום ונתנום לישראל. לכך נאמר ויאמר ה’ מסיני בא.
Another thing: “And it says HaShem came from Sinai” – When The “Place” (a euphemism for HaShem) appeared to give the Torah to Israel, not only to Israel alone did He appear (and intend to give it), but rather unto all of the nations of the world: First He went to the children of Esav (Esau) and He said to them “Do you accept My Torah?” They said unto Him “What is written in it?” He responded, “Don’t murder.” They said “Master of the world! Our father’s basic essence was all about murder, as the verse states “and the hands are the hands of Esav”, and concerning this our father was promised, as it says, “on your sword you shall live.” He (then left them and) went over to the children of Ammon and Moav, and said to them “Do you accept My Torah?” They asked, “What’s written in it?” He said to them “Don’t do incest.” They said unto Him “Master of the world! The entire essence of licentiousness is ours, as the verse says, “and the two daughters of Lot became pregnant from their father.” He then went to children of Yishmael and asked them “Do you accept My Torah?” They said to Him “What is written in it?” He answered, “Do not steal.” They said in front of Him “Master of the world! The entire essence of our father was a thief, as the verse states “and he shall be a wild man (pe’re adam).” There was no nation (in the entire world) to whom He didn’t go and speak with, and he knocked on their doors and asked them what they wanted (i.e. if they want to) accept His Torah, for thus does it say (Psalms Tehillim) “The kings of the land will all admit to You that they heard the words of Your mouth”. Could it be that they heard, and they accepted? For this the Teacher (Talmud= That which teaches us, i.e. the Torah) says (Ezekiel Yechezkel) “and you shall not do”, and it also says (Micha) “and I shall do with rage and with anger, in vengeance of the nations who did not listen”. Even the seven mitzvos that the sons of Noah accepted upon themselves they “couldn’t” keep them and they, therefore, removed them and gave them to Israel. … Therefore it (the verse) says “HaShem came from Sinai”.
I have learned this Midrash many times, and every time that I read it I always ask myself a very simple question: What is the Midrash coming to teach me?
From a cursory reading, it would appear that the real problem here was that HaShem was just a terrible door-to-door salesman! He should have taken a very basic business course, (business 101) and they would have explained to Him that if someone offers you a chance to explain/show them the value of your product you show them how nice and friendly it is, how it is helpful to them in their daily lives and show them that it is a NEED, and then they go and buy it!
So basically, this says that despite the fact that HaShem was a terrible salesman, and therefore all of the other people of the world refused it, only the children of Israel were gullible enough to take it! Is that right?
Of course, that’s not it.
The words of our sages are very deep indeed. Let’s preface with a parable:
Let’s say that two people show up at your door wanting to give you something. One is an absolute stranger and the other is your father/mother (assuming that you have a healthy, loving relationship with them, of course). Both of them appear at your door and they both offer you a book that they have written. Do you think that just by the very fact that it’s your loved one who is offering the book that you are more likely to accept it? Of course, you would! What if it was your friend? What if it was your spouse (again, assuming that you have a happy, loving relationship)?
Well, if you opened the door and HaShem was “standing” there the experience would be infinitely deeper. You would experience an all-encompassing love that goes beyond any-and-all that you ever experienced in your lifetime. There would be a sense of benevolence and goodness that you would feel enveloping you like you have not known ever. And if this being would say to you “Would you accept the gift of my Torah?” – what would be your response? Mine would be a resounding “YES!”
But if I ask, “What’s written in it?” would I, or could I be blamed?
The answer is “ABSOLUTELY”
Why is this? Because if you meet the source of all good and love and He offers you a gift and you ask Him “What’s it about?” there is only one thing that is bothering you: does it “fit” me as I am now? Would I have to change to fit it?
To this, the answer is a resounding “Yes, it DOESN’T fit you as you are. You are going to have to WORK and MAKE CHANGES in order to fit it”. That is what all of the nations of the world meant when they asked, “What’s written in it?” and that is why HaShem, who is in no way lacking for wisdom of any sort, didn’t try to “sell it” to them in a muchi-puchi type of way, utilizing basic sales-skills.
The Torah is not meant to fit you… unless you make yourself over in His image, in which case it fits you like a glove.
That’s what the greatness of Chag Matan Torateynu (the Festival of the Giving of Our Torah) is all about.
On this day 3329 years ago, we were given the instructions and the mandate of how to become a holy and godly people, if we make ourselves over in His image. We chose to be “the Chosen People”, and it is a badge that we wear with pride, but it isn’t about being a “superior” race at all. It’s about how, without the Torah, we would have been – to quote Rav Yosef, in Tractate Pesachim – “Just another Yosef (Joe) in the shuk (open-air market)”.
Do you want to be godly? Holy? Learn Torah, and let it show you the way to make yourself over in His image.
Good Shabbos and Good Yom Tov to all!
 The word “shema” in Hebrew has two basic interpretations to hear and to listen. There is a clear difference between the two, as although many of my students hear what I say, many times they don’t really listen, and they, therefore, fail to comprehend.