30 April 2009/6th Iyyar 5769
IMPORTANT UPCOMING DATES ON THE HEBREW CALENDAR:
Lag B'Omer/33rd Day of the Omer - 12 May 2009/18th Iyyar 5769
Yom Yerushalayim/Jerusalem Day - 22 May 2009/28th Iyyar 5769
Rosh Chodesh Sivan/New Moon of Sivan - 24 May 2009/1st Sivan 5769
Erev Shavuot/Evening of the first Day of Shavuot/Feast of Weeks - 28 May 2009/5th Sivan 5769
Shavuot 1/Feast of Weeks/50th Day of the Omer Counting/Giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai - 29 May 2009/6th Sivan 5769
Shavuot 2/Second Day of Feast of Weeks - 30 May 2009/7th Sivan 5769
Last month on the 14th of Aviv, we as the dispersed in the Nations, and those who are back in Eretz Yisra'el, the remnant of the 12 Tribes of Yisra'el, have celebrated our redemption through the Pesach Lamb, and our exile out of Egypt. In Exodus 13:8 HaShem commanded us: "And you shall tell your son in that day, saying, "This is done because of what HaShem did for me when I came up from Egypt." In Deuteronomy 29:14-15 HaShem promised us: "I make this covenant and this oath, not with you alone, but with him who stands here with us today before HaShem our Elohim, as well as with him who is not here with us today," referring to everyone, in every generation, who decides to embrace the Covenant HaShem made with the children of Israel.
Each one of us is exhorted to consider himself as having personally come forth out of Egypt. The history of the nation of Israel, and the "Jews", is thus OUR history too. We are currently in the season of the Counting of the Omer, and preparing ourselves for the upcoming Feast of Shavuot. The day that HaShem gave us the Torah of His Kingdom. There He entered into an eternal Covenant with us, the Assembly of Yisra'el, called to be a Kingdom of Priests, and a light to the nations. We are the generation that is being called from the nations, and is experiencing the fulfillment of the words of the prophets of Yisra'el about the restoration of the Two houses of Israel into one Kingdom. We are also in a process of re-identification, discovering our identity as a member of the Household of Yisra'el. This identity has been preserved by the Sages of Yisra'el through thousands of generations. Now we in this generation desire to take hold of the garment of those of the House of Judah, to re-discover our National Identity, and and learn the ways of the Kingdom of Heaven, in order to become One in HaShem's hand.
Come with us on a journey in this month's newsletter, where we will relive the history of our forefathers, through the texts of the Tanakh and the writings of the Sages. This is OUR JOURNEY THROUGH HISTORY. Let us prepare ourselves, to be able to stand as ONE PEOPLE, WITH ONE DESTINY, as we are reliving the shadow picture of our journey towards Sinai. A people UNITED in heart, having prepared ourselves, with a humble, repentant and circumcised heart, to receive anew the Revelation of the Torah of His Kingdom and the Restoration of all things! Will we in this generation take up the challenge by faith, believing in the promises HaShem gave through Moses and the Prophets of Yisra'el, waiting on His latter rain outpouring, to accept upon us the offer and the yoke of His Kingdom.
Isaiah 60:21-22 - "Also your people shall all be righteous; they shall inherit the land forever, the branch of My planting, the work of My hands, that I may be glorified. A little one shall become a thousand, and a small one a strong nation. I, HaShem, will hasten it in its time."
Isaiah 29:22-24 - "Therefore thus says HaShem, who redeemed Abraham, concerning the house of Jacob: "Jacob shall not now be shamed, nor shall his face now grow pale; but when he sees his children, the work of My hands, in his midst, they will hallow My name, and hallow the Holy One of Jacob, and fear the G-d of Isra'el. These also who erred in spirit will come to understanding, and those who complained will learn doctrine."
Areas in blue are highlighted by the KolHaTor Editor for emphasis.
Research uncovers Israelites' 'foothold' in Jordan
The discovery of gigantic foot-shaped enclosures in the
Jordan Valley may shed light on ancient Jewish holiday practices, according to
University of Haifa researchers.
The sites, identified with what the Torah terms "gilgal" (a camp or stone structure), were used for assemblies, preparation for battle, and rituals, according to a press release the university put out last week.
The researchers, led by Prof. Adam Zertal, found five such structures, each shaped like an enormous foot.
The term "gilgal" is mentioned 39 times in the Bible, the press release said - the most famous referring to the site where Joshua and the Israelites encamped after crossing the Jordan River into Israel. However, no archeological site had yet been identified with it. The five enclosures, presumed to have been established in the 13th-12th centuries BC, were excavated between 1990 and 2008.
And the men of Gibeon sent unto Joshua to the camp to Gilgal, saying, Slack not thy hand from thy servants; come up to us quickly, and save us, and help us: for all the kings of the Amorites that dwell in the mountains are gathered together against us.
— Joshua 10:6
In at least two cases, archeologists found paved circuits around the structures, believed to have been used to circle the sites during ceremonies.
"Ceremonial encirclement of an area in procession is an important element in the ancient Near East," Zertal said.
He added that the Hebrew word "hag" (festival) in Semitic languages originated from the verb "hug," meaning "encircle."
According to Zertal, the foot shape would also explain another holiday-related term: aliya la'regel - the pilgrimage to Jerusalem on Pessah, Succot and Shavuot - literally translated as "ascending to the foot."
"The discovery of these 'foot' structures opens an entirely new system of linguistic and historical perceptions," Zertal said. "Identifying the 'foot' enclosures as ancient Israeli ceremonial sites leads us to a series of new possibilities to explain the beginnings of Israel, of the People of Israel's festivals and holidays."
He said the constructions had been used for assemblies during the first Iron Age, and when the religious center was moved to Jerusalem, the command of "aliya la'regel" (pilgrimage) became associated with the city.
Zertal also noted that the foot traditionally symbolized ownership of territory, control over an enemy, connection between people and land, and the presence of a deity.
The Bible alludes to some of these, as does ancient Egyptian literature, he said.
(Editor's Note: Areas in blue have been highlighted as it relates to the history of the 12 Tribes in their dispersion/exile of the nations.)
Filling in the holes of history....., by Michael A. Oxley
Biblical archaeologists have always been the "black sheep" in historical circles. They, and their researches, are given validity only if their theories and subsequent proofs discredit the divine aspect of the Hebrew and Christian holy books. E. Raymond Capt is the single, most powerful ally of an accurate view of history, a history recognizing the Hebrew peoples as contributors to, and often catalysts of, world events.
The focus of this book is the migration paths of the twelve tribes of Israel. Documentation includes passages translated from existing and catalogued Assyrian and Babylonian tablets and an in-depth study of regional languages that track the various paths of the Hebrew peoples. Other reviewers have suggested that this book raises more questions than it answers. In truth, this book seeks to answer no questions. It seeks to bring into sharp focus the proofs that currently exist to accurately track the Hebrew peoples.
This book is a must for every
student of history. Period
• Paperback: 256 pages
• Publisher: Artisan Publishers (June 1985)
• Language: English
• ISBN-10: 0934666156
• ISBN-13: 978-0934666152
Could you be an Israelite and not know it?
"Here's a paradox, a most ingenious paradox: an anthropological fact, many Christians may have much more Hebrew-Israelite blood in their veins than most of their Jewish neighbors." (1)
Alfred M. Lilienthal
Could this possibly be so? If so, it would mean that the majority of Christendom and the rest of society has misidentified the people most prominent in the Bible. If Israel has been misidentified there is no doubt that major errors in doctrinal interpretation and application of biblical prophecy have been made! Take a look at a truly remarkable study of Assyrian tablets that reveal the fate of the Lost Tribes of Israel. This is the book considered by most to be Capt's finest of all his vast and excellent literary achievements!
An archaeological study of the origin and history of the so-called "Lost Tribes of Israel" and the Assyrian tablets that reveal the fate of these same people chosen by God to be the "light-bearers" to the nations. When clay cuneiform tablets were found in the excavations of the Assyrian Royal Library of Ashurbanipal in ancient Nineveh, their relevance to the nation of Israel was overlooked at the time. This was undoubtedly because they were in complete disorder and among hundreds of miscellaneous text dealing with many matters of State. Contributing to this situation was the fact that the Assyrians called the Israelites by other names during their captivity.
Some of the tablets found were dated around 707 B.C. and reveal the fate of the Israelites as they escaped from the land of their captivity and"disappeared" into the hinterland of Europe. These tablets form the "Missing Links" that enable us to identify the modern-day descendants of the"Lost Tribes of Israel". In doing so, we increase our knowledge of Bible history and experience a dramatic revision of our preconceived ideas of Bible prophecy.
In this authoritative book, the author has attempted no more than a brief review of the origin and history of the Israelites; a survey of the Assyrian inscriptions and cuneiform tablets that record the deportations of Israel as related to Biblical and secular history; their sojourn in captivity, and a synopsis of their migrations to their new homelands (British Isles, France, Germany, Scandanavia, Canada, America, etc.). "Missing Links" is the book that opened the eyes of thousands of Christians (Baptist, Methodist, Catholic, Pentecostal, Presbyterian, Church of Christ, and more) to their Israelite heritage and how that one single discovery has changed the way they now view all Bible doctrine and prophecy!
(Comments in blue in brackets by the compiler of the KolHaTor Newsletter.)
The significance, customs and mechanics of counting the Omer.
by Rabbi Shraga Simmons
What is the Omer?
In the days of the Holy Temple, the Jewish people would bring a barley offering on the second day of Passover (Leviticus 23:10). This was called the "Omer" (literally, "sheaf") and in practical terms would permit the consumption of recently-harvested grains.
Starting on the second day of Passover, the Torah (Leviticus 23:15) says it is a mitzvah every day to "count the Omer" -- the 50 days leading up to Shavuot. This is an important period of growth and introspection, in preparation for the holiday of Shavuot which arrives 50 days later.
Shavuot is the day that the Jewish (Hebrew/12 Tribes and the mixed multitude) people stood at Mount Sinai to receive the Torah, and as such required a seven-week preparation period. The commentators say that we were freed from Egypt only in order to receive the Torah and to fulfill it. Thus we were commanded to count from the second day of Pesach until the day that the
Torah was given -- to show how greatly we desire the Torah.
How to Count the Omer
The Omer is counted every evening after nightfall (approx. 30 minutes after sunset), which is the start of the Jewish 'day.' (In the synagogue it is counted toward the end of the Maariv (evening) service.) If a person neglected to count the Omer one evening, he should count the following daytime, but without a blessing.
To properly 'count the Omer,' you must say both the number of days and the weeks. For example:
On days 1-6, we say only the number of days. For
"Today is 4 days of the Omer."
On days which are complete weeks -- e.g. 7, 14, 21 -- we say as follows, for example:
"Today is 21 days, which is 3 weeks of the Omer."
On all other days, we say, for example:
"Today is 33 days, which is 4 weeks and 5 days of
(Since you must recite the blessing before you count, don't mention the count for that night beforehand.)
Before counting, stand and say the following blessing:
Baruch ata Adonoy, Eloheinu melech ha-olam, asher
kid'shanu be'mitzvo'sav ve-tzivanu al sefiras ha'omer.
Blessed are You, G-d, King of the Universe, Who made us holy with His commandments, and commanded us on the counting of the Omer.
The Omer may be counted with a blessing only if both of
the following conditions have been met:
1) you count the Omer during the evening, and
2) you have not missed counting any of the days so far
This means to say that if a person neglected to count the Omer for an entire day and did not recall until the following evening, he should continue counting on subsequent days -- but without a blessing.
Why can't you "continue counting with a blessing" if you miss counting one day?
The reason is because regarding the Omer, the Torah writes: "Seven weeks, they shall be complete" (Leviticus 23:15). Thus according to many authorities, if one missed counting any day, the 7-week period can no longer be considered 'complete'.
Restrictions During the Omer
tells us that Rabbi Akiva had 24,000 students who tragically died during the
Omer period, because they did not treat each other with sufficient respect.
Therefore, for the 33 days from Passover until Lag B'Omer, (the 33rd Day of the Omer) we observe these signs of
1) no weddings
2) not listening to instrumental music, either live or recorded (vocal music is permitted)
3) no haircuts or shaving, unless for business purposes
[Note: According to some customs, the 33-day mourning period begins a few weeks later -- on the first of Iyar, and ends on the third of Sivan.]
Each day of the Omer is related to a different level of the kabbalistic "Sefirot," the emanations through which God interacts with the world. (see: Kabbalah 101) Each of the seven weeks is associated with one of seven Sefirot, and each day within each of the seven weeks is associated also with one of the same seven Sefirot -- thus creating 49 permutations. Each day during the
Omer, we focus on a different aspect of the Sefirot,
with the hopes of attaining spiritual improvement in that specific area.
Specifically, since Rabbi Akiva's students showed a lack of proper respect, during the Omer period we try to look for the best way to treat our family, friends and acquaintances, so that we may make a "tikkun" (spiritual correction) on the mistakes of the past.
The Talmud (Avot 6:5) says that "Torah is acquired through 48 ways." Thus during the weeks leading up to Shavuot, many have the custom to prepare to "receive the Torah" by studying the 48 Ways. One popular method is to learn a lesson each day of Rabbi Noah Weinberg's series, the "48 Ways"; there is both a text and audio version available online.
Lag B'Omer, the 33rd day of the Omer ('Lag' has a numerical value of 33), marks the date of death of one of the greatest Talmudic sages, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. This is a day of great celebration, because tradition says that on his death bed Rabbi Shimon revealed the secrets of the Zohar, the primary book of Jewish mysticism (kabbalah).
For centuries, Lag B'Omer has been a day of pilgrimage to the tomb of Rabbi Shimon in the Galilee town of Meiron. In one day, an estimated 250,000 Jews visit Meiron -- dancing, praying, and celebrating the wonderful spiritual gifts that Rabbi Shimon bequeathed to us. Many people camp out for days beforehand in anticipation.
To celebrate Lag B'Omer, Jews from around Israel light bonfires, to commemorate the great mystical illuminations that Rabbi Shimon revealed. For weeks before, Israeli children scavenge wood to arrange as impressive sculptures -- often 20 and 30 feet high. Great public celebrations are held and the wood towers are burned on Lag B'Omer.
by Rabbi Noson Weisz
(Areas in blue: comment and highlighted by KolHaTor Editor for emphasis.)
You shall count for yourselves -- from the morrow of
the rest day, from the day when you bring the omer of the waving -- seven
weeks, they shall be complete. Until the morrow of the seventh week you shall
count fifty days; and you shall offer a new meal-offering to G-d. (Leviticus
The custom among Jews is not to celebrate weddings between Passover and Shavuot. The reason: so as not to create an atmosphere of increased joy because the students of Rabbi Akiva died of a plague during this period. There is also the custom not to trim the head or facial hair [as a sign of mourning], but some allow this after Lag B'Omer -- the 33rd day of the Omer -- because they maintain that the plague abated at this time. (Tur, Orach chaim, 493,1)
It was said that Rabbi Akiva had 12,000 pairs of students and that they all died in a single period because they did not afford the proper respect to each other. The world was a wasteland until Rabbi Akiva taught our rabbis in the South: Rabbi Meir, Rabbi Yehuda, Rabbi Yosi, Rabbi Shimon [that is, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, the author of the Zohar whose memorial day we celebrate on the 33rd day of the Omer] and Rabbi Elazar ben Shamua. And they reestablished the Torah. We learn that they all died between Passover and Shavuot. (Talmud, Yevomat, 62b)
Is the connection between the deaths of these rabbis
for their lack of respect for each other and the first 33 days of the Omer a
The fact that Israel mourns during the days of the Omer, and the Talmud stresses that the deaths took place between Passover and Shavuot forcefully conveys the impression that we are looking at more than mere coincidence.
is called by My name and whom I have created for My glory, whom I have fashioned,
even perfected (Isaiah 43:7)
All that the Holy one, Blessed is He, created in His world, He created solely for His glory, as it is said, All that is called by My name, indeed, it is for My glory that I have created it, formed it and made it. (Isaiah 43:7) And it says, G-d shall reign for all eternity. (Avot 6:11)
This chapter of Avot is known as the "Chapter of
Torah Acquisition" as it deals entirely with how to go about amassing
The Hebrew word for "glory" used in the above verse is the word kavod. Because the ordinary meaning of the word kovod, "respect," is inadequate to convey the concept behind this verse, the translator selected the word "glory" instead. Unfortunately in the context, this translation makes it appear as if G-d created the world to show off His power, obviously not the intended message.
To really comprehend what is meant by the fact that G-d created the universe for His glory, we have to delve deeply into the Jewish concept of kavod.
Let us begin by exploring the association between this concept of kavod and Torah.
This is the matter that you shall do for them to sanctify them to minister to me (Exodus 29:1). This that is written: the wise inherit honor kavod, (Proverbs 3:35). There is no honor other than Torah; and I can prove it to you. If you study the Book of Chronicles you will find that the people are listed as Adam, Seth, Enoch etc. you do not find respect, kavod, associated with any of them until you come to Jabez, as it is written, Jabez was more honorable than his brothers (1 Chronicles 4:9) why is his name associated with honor kavod? Because he tirelessly pursued the study and teaching of Torah.
inherit honor. Similarly we find by Aaron, what does it say? The teaching of
truth was in his mouth (Malachi 2:6) what does G-d say to Moses? You shall make
vestments of sanctity for Aaron your brother, for glory and splendor (Exodus
28:2). All this kavod in the merit of the Torah he tirelessly pursued.
(Exodus Raba 38:5)
THE HONOR OF TORAH
How can we relate to the idea that there is no genuine respect or kavod that is not somehow associated with the tireless pursuit of Torah?
Rabbi Hutner finds the beginnings of the answer in Psalm 136 known as "The Great Praise." In this prayer, which we recite on Shabbat morning, we describe G-d as a being whose kindness endures forever -- no fewer than 26 times. Remarking on this apparently exaggerated repetitive emphasis on G-d's kindness in a single prayer, the Talmud comments:
Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi taught: These 26 kindnesses represent the 26 generations that G-d supported the world through pure kindness, as He had not yet given His Torah. (Talmud, Pesachim, 118a)
This statement would appear to imply that G-d's kindness was exhausted after these 26 generations, and once the Jews (The Twelve Tribes of the assembly of Israel) were given the Torah, He stopped feeding the world with kindness.
But Rabbi Hutner explained that the true meaning of the passage is not to describe a reduction of G-d's kindness, but an alteration of the attribute of G-d which serves as the foundation of creation. Before the Torah was given, G-d's relationship to the world could only be understood in terms of pure kindness. After the Torah was given it can be understood in terms of the concept of kavod.
When man lives in the world without any assigned purpose to his life, he is actively assuming that G-d created the world for him, as an act of pure kindness. All he has to do is to enjoy. Of course, as he lives in G-d's world, he must observe the minimum rules of civilized conduct expressed by the seven Noahide laws, but there is no notion that he must somehow earn his keep. A world that does not require the pursuit of some quest as a condition of living is a world that is not built on respect but on pure kindness.
If we translate the implications of such a world into a human real life situation, its equivalent would consist of living at someone else's expense, drawing full support without having to give the slightest return. No one has any respect for the person who takes a free ride. But a world without Torah is precisely such a world. The purpose of life is simply to enjoy living. Man has no duties or obligations other than to simply enjoy his life and keep to the Noahide laws that are simply the elementary rules of civilized behavior observed by essentially all human societies.
The world of Torah is also a world that is supplied by G-d's kindness, but it is a world based on respect. In such a world man must spend his life in laboring to perfect himself. He has to turn himself into a G-dlike creature by carefully observing the Torah laws, which are designed to guide him towards behavior appropriate for someone created in G-d's image. The observance of these laws has nothing to do with enjoying life, and involves much effort and self-sacrifice. What is more, the observance of these laws is the condition for living. The Torah states that if no one observed these laws, the world would cease.
Under the system introduced at Sinai, man must justify his existence. He must merit being given a world. The world continues to exist only because man needs it in order to accomplish his mission and his purpose. G-d's creation is still an act of kindness, but it is kindness based on respect. Man, the recipient of creation is expected to produce. He lives in a world where there are no free rides. Every man must earn his way. The respect that is a response to effort and achievement is one aspect of kavod.
Another aspect of kavod is associated with uniqueness. For example, the value placed on minerals has to do with their rarity. Gold is an uncommon element in nature, and this makes it treasured and unique. Platinum is rarer than gold, and therefore held in greater esteem. Enriched uranium is rarer still, and therefore has even greater value. Another example is art, especially after the death of the artist, when it is known that the resource is totally exhausted. Rembrandts are very rare indeed, and they are priceless.
In the same way, some human beings are blessed with very rare qualities that render them unique. The great athlete, the great scientist, the fantastic orator, the very beautiful model is a special breed of human being. There are not many like him or her walking around. This rarity, when it is associated with a quality that is regarded as positive, elicits adulation from the rest of mankind. Thus, such gifted people are often showered with attention and money.
But people are
more complex than rare minerals or paintings. The value assigned to them does
not entirely depend on the objective criterion of scarcity and other factors
also enter the equation. In Hebrew the numerical value of the word kavod
is 32, the same as the numerical value for the Hebrew word lev,
"heart." That is because the kavod that is awarded to people
for their uniqueness is dependant on the value placed on the commodity in which
they are unique, and this value depends on the human heart.
An excellent yardstick by which to measure social values is to study the distribution of kavod.
For example, if we look at our own society, we find that we lavish adulation and money on sports stars, and entertainers, on powerful politicians or media moguls, while prominent scientists or influential teachers and clergymen often lead lives of underpaid obscurity. The name Babe Ruth has almost instant recognition, while few people have heard of say Alexander Fleming. Yet the former only managed to hit a few more baseballs than other people, while the latter saved the lives of many millions by discovering penicillin.
The lev-kavod equation would suggest that our society places a much greater value on accomplishments in the field of sports and entertainment than it does on the advancement and cultivation of knowledge or morality.
This again leads ultimately to the association of kavod and Torah. In the world of pure kindness preceding the Torah, where the focus of life is on enjoyment, the advancement of knowledge must always take a back seat to the pleasures of entertainment. The person who has a special talent that stimulates the physical senses adds a lot more to the enjoyment of life than the person who writes the boring textbooks full of esoteric knowledge on which the advancement of human knowledge depends.
In a world of Torah, where the focus is necessarily on improvement rather than enjoyment, kavod would necessarily be distributed differently than in our own world. The ultimate kavod is indeed offered by the Torah to the scholar. But there is yet a third aspect of kavod to explore which will finally allow us to confront the story of Rabbi Akiva's students again. As we have pointed out kavod among people is a function of uniqueness. If these are thousands of Michael Jordans, there is no honor to be gained by simply being another one. And even in the ideal Torah society that places wisdom on the highest pedestal, when there are 24,000 brilliant Torah scholars it adds little luster to be simply another one.
The jaded lack of respect with which the students of
Rabbi Akiva treated each other was simply an indication of the great abundance
of superior Torah students. What was so wrong with that?
The Mishna teaches: man was created alone [not by species or even male and female, but a solitary individual] to teach you, that whoever destroys a life is considered by the Torah as though he had destroyed the entire world, and whoever saves a life is considered as though he had saved an entire world (Talmud, Sanhedrin 37a)
But how does
the lesson follow? When Adam was created he had the significance of uniqueness,
but now that there are millions of people populating the world how is it
possible to equate each individual with Adam?
THE MEANING OF UNIQUENESS
Rabbi Hutner explains. Each human being is still unique. No two individuals in the history of the world ever had the identical perception of anything. Each has his own mind, character and emotions, and each represents a unique, never to be duplicated consciousness in the cosmos. The great multitude of human beings doubtless obscures this truth, but no amount of numbers can change its validity.
If we look at the uniqueness of human beings once again, we will now discover another difference between the great athlete or politician and the important scientist. The great athlete who runs the mile in the shortest time is no different than the other great athlete who equals his speed. Even if he manages to hold the world record it will only be for a short time, and even then his supremacy amounts to not more than a second or two.
This obviously applies as well to any of the other qualities that we pay tribute to with the single exception of knowledge. Knowledge is a product of man's perception and in this regard each person represents a singularity that will never be repeated.
The period of the days of the Omer, the days between
Passover and Shavuot, is a period of anticipation, of counting off the days
till we can finally receive the Torah.
The commandment of counting the days is based on the feelings of excited anticipation. This period represents the transition between two worlds:
1. The world of the 26 generations, based on pure kindness, dedicated to enjoyment, and
2. the world of Torah, based on respect, dedicated to perfection.
It is the transition from the world of enjoyment to the world of kavod.
In this world of kavod, the uniqueness of man is apparent in his capacity for knowledge, and kavod is awarded on the bases of achievement in advancing human knowledge. The most significant area of human knowledge, and therefore the one that calls for the greatest kavod is Torah knowledge. Without this knowledge, G-d's creation is an act of pure kindness where man is given no duties or responsibilities except to behave in a civilized fashion. The greatest achievers in the area of Torah knowledge were the students of Rabbi Akiva.
When these students took each other for granted just because there were so many of them, it demonstrated their fundamental lack of appreciation and understanding of the entire world of kavod that the Torah comes to introduce. Such lack of appreciation renders the days of anticipation entirely meaningless. If Torah knowledge cannot render each individual scholar worthy of kavod no matter how large a number there may be, than the arrival of the Torah on Shavuot will change nothing.
The 33rd word in the Torah is
the Hebrew word tov meaning "good." It refers to the light
that was G-d's first creation: G-d saw that the light was good (Genesis 1:4).
The 32 previous words of creation, equaling the numerical value of lev "heart," serve to generate this good light.
G-d's light to the world is his Torah, which points the way
to man's purpose and renders him a creature worthy of respect. Between the 33rd
day of the Omer and the fiftieth day, Shavuot -- the day the Torah enters the
world -- there are 17 days, equal to the numerical value of the word tov.
If we divide the days we count between the first thirty two and the last
seventeen, we get lev tov, the "good heart" -- the heart that
knows what to value and distributes its kavod, (worth 32) with its entire
essence (also 32) to the proper recipient, the Torah scholar.
(Sections underlined and in blue by KolHaTor Editor for emphasis.)
Many puzzling questions surround the little understood
holiday of Lag B'Omer -- the thirty third day of the counting of the Omer.
by Rabbi Pinchas Stolper
Courtesy of the Orthodox Union, http://www.ou.org/
Thirty-three days following the first day of Passover, Jews celebrate a "minor" holiday called Lag B'Omer, the thirty-third day of the Omer. It is an oasis of joy in the midst of the sad Sefirah period which is almost unnoticed by most contemporary Jews. Yet it contains historic lessons of such great severity -- that this generation must not only unravel the mystery of Lag B'Omer but will discover that its own fate is wrapped in the crevices of its secrets.
The seven weeks between Passover and Shavuot are the days of the "Counting of the Omer," the harvest festivities which were observed in the Land of Israel when the Temple stood on Mt. Moriah in Jerusalem.
This fifty-day period should have been a time of joyful anticipation. Having experienced the Exodus from Egypt on Pesach, every Jew (KolHaTor Editor: every member of the Assembly of Israel, all 12 Tribes and the stranger who embraces the Covenant and the G-d of Israel.) literally "counts the days" from the first night of Passover until Mattan Torah -- the revelation of Torah at Mt. Sinai which took place on Shavuot, exactly fifty days after the Exodus. While the Exodus marks the physical birth of the Jewish nation -- the Giving of Torah completes the process through the spiritual birth of the Jewish nation.
Each year, as we celebrate the Seder on Passover, we are commanded to "see ourselves as though each of us actually experienced the Exodus." It therefore follows that we must prepare ourselves during the Sefirah period (counting of the Omer), to once again accept the Torah on Shavuot -- to make our freedom spiritually complete.
Clearly then, the Sefirah days should have been days of joy, but instead, they are observed as a period of semi-mourning. Weddings, music and haircuts are not permitted, some do not shave during this entire period. It is on the sad side of Sefirah that we come across the holiday of Lag B'Omer, the one day during this sad period when our mourning is halted, when sadness is forbidden.
DEATH OF RABBI AKIVA'S STUDENTS
What is the reason for sadness during what should have been a period of joyful anticipation? The reason, the Babylonian Talmud tells us, [Yevamot:62:2] is that during this period, Rabbi Akiva's 24,000 students, who lived 1,850 years ago in the Roman dominated Land of Israel, died from a mysterious G-d sent plague. Why did they die? Because the Talmud teaches, "they did not show proper respect to one another." Lag B'Omer is celebrated on the thirty-third day because on that day the plague ended and Rabbi Akiva's students stopped dying.
This explanation leaves us with a number of difficulties and still more unanswered questions.
Why does this event, the death of Rabbi Akiva's students, tragic as it was, merit thirty-two days of mourning when greater tragedies in Jewish history, such as the destruction of both Temples or the breaking of the Stone Tablets of the Covenant by Moses, are marked by a single day of mourning. In terms of numbers, the massacres of the Spanish Inquisition, the Crusades, the Chemelnitsky pogroms, and the Holocaust which destroyed European Jewry and cost six million Jewish lives far overshadow the death of Rabbi Akiva's students. Yet, these tragic events are not commemorated by even one special day of mourning. Why is the death of Rabbi Akiva's students given so much more weight?
Every event in the Jewish calendar was placed there by the Divine hand because it conforms to a pre-set notion of the significance of the seasons and of history. Nature and events correspond and intermesh, certain days and periods are most suited to joy or sadness. Why does the Sefirah mourning coincide with the joyous holidays of Passover and Shavuot, which in turn coincide with the period of harvest festivities?
There also appear to be glaring inconsistencies in the story itself. What were Rabbi Akiva's students guilty of that they deserved to die? If Rabbi Akiva's students died as a result of G-d's punishment for their sins, why should we mourn them? Didn't they deserve their punishment?
Why is Lag B'Omer a day of "celebration"? If all that happened on Lag B'Omer was but a temporary halt in the dying, wouldn't it be more fitting to set it aside as a memorial day for the twenty-four thousand scholars who died?
What is the connection between Lag B'Omer and the revolt against the Romans by Bar Kochba and his army? And how does all of this relate to Rabbi Shimon Bar-Yochai, author of the mystical books of the Zohar who lived in the same era, about whom we sing on Lag B'Omer.
why are all these questions never discussed in the open, as are for example the
Four Questions of the Passover Seder?
The answers to these and other questions lie shrouded in the history of a turbulent age and in the mysteries of the Jewish concept of the Messianic era.
First, we must understand that much of the material in the Talmud that deals with political matters was written with a keen sensitivity to the Roman censor. The Talmud could not speak openly concerning the political ramifications of events. In order to obtain a true picture of what happened, we must piece together the story from various historical sources and Talmudic hints. What we discover goes something like this:
The Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans in the year 70 C.E. Jerusalem and the surrounding countryside lay in ruins from border to border. Scores of thousands died in the fierce fighting and subsequently from persecution and starvation; thousands more were sold as slaves and forced into exile. The Romans considered the Jewish nation (The Kingdom of Israel) defeated, obliterated and done for. The Roman General Titus erected a grand victory monument in Rome which stands to this day that says just that -- the famous Arch of Titus on which is inscribed Judea Capita -- Judea is kaput, finished -- done for.
But even in defeat the spiritual leaders of the Jewish people struggled to rebuild Jewish life (Biblical, Hebraic Kingdom of Israel life) and recreate Jewish institutions. They were so successful that around 135 C.E. a Jewish military leader named Bar Kosiba succeeded in organizing a fighting force to rid the Land of Israel of the hated Romans. Thousands rallied to his cause, including the greatest Talmudic scholar of all times, the Tanna Rabbi Akiva ben Yosef, whose insights and brilliant decisions fill the Mishnah.
Many of Rabbi Akiva's contemporaries felt that a new revolt against the Romans was doomed to failure and urged the avoidance of bloodshed. But Bar Kosiba persisted and succeeded in organizing and training a superb military force of 200,000 men. The Talmud relates that Bar Kosiba demanded that each recruit demonstrate his bravery by cutting off a finger -- when the Rabbis protested he substituted a new test, each recruit was expected to uproot a young tree while riding a horse. Such was the level of their bravery and readiness.
Rabbi Akiva disagreed with his rabbinic colleagues and won over a majority to his point of view. From the military point of view, he felt that a successful revolt was feasible. It is said by some historians that twenty percent of the population of the Roman Empire between Rome and Jerusalem was Jewish.
The pagan foundations of Rome were crumbling. Many Romans were in search of a religious alternative -- which many of them subsequently found in a mitzvah-less Christianity in the following two centuries. Many Romans were attracted to Judaism, and significant numbers converted. There were thousands -- tens of thousands of sympathizers. Some members of the Roman Senate converted to Judaism. If the large numbers of Jews who lived throughout the Roman Empire could be inspired into coordinated anti-Roman revolts, many historians believe that the prospects for toppling Rome were very real.
PROCLAIMING THE MESSIAH
And if the revolts succeeded and Jews from all over the world united to return and rebuild their homeland, Rabbi Akiva believed that they could bring about the Messianic Era -- the great era of spirituality and universal peace foretold by Israel's Prophets -- the great millennia during which all Jews would return to the land of Israel, the Jerusalem Temple would be rebuilt and Israel would lead the world into an era of justice, spiritual revival, and fulfillment.
In his Laws of Kings, (Chapter 11:3) Maimonides, in discussing the Messianic era says, "Do not think that the King Messiah must work miracles and signs, create new natural phenomena, restore the dead to life or perform similar miracles. This is not so. For Rabbi Akiva was the wisest of the scholars of the Mishna and was the armor bearer of Bar Kosiba (the actual family name of Bar Kochba) the King. He said concerning Ben Kosiba that he is the King Messiah. Both he and the sages of his generation believed that Bar Kosiba was the King Messiah, until (Bar Kosiba) was killed because of his sins. Once he was killed, it became evident to them that he was not the messiah."
To Bar Kochba and his officers, all seemed to be in readiness; Rome was rotten and corrupt -- many captive nations strained at the yoke -- rebellion was in the air. Rabbi Akiva (Jerusalem Talmud: Ta'anit 4:15) gave Bar Kosiba a new name, "Bar Kochba" -- Son of the Star-- in fulfillment of the prophecy -- "a star will go forth from Jacob." (KolHaTor Editor: Numbers 24:17) Bar Kochba trained an army capable of igniting the powder keg of rebellion and Rabbi Akiva lit it with one of the most dramatic proclamations in Jewish history -- he proclaimed that Bar Kochba was the long awaited Messiah.
One of the greatest Torah teachers and leaders of all time, Rabbi Akiva could not have made this crucial and radical declaration unless he was certain. He would never have proclaimed a man Messiah unless he knew. Rabbi Akiva added a new, spiritual dimension to the war of liberation. He attempted to merge the soldiers of the sword with the soldiers of the book -- his twenty- four thousand students -- each a great Torah scholar and leader.
These outstanding scholars would become the real "army" of the Jewish people, a spiritual and moral force that would bring Torah to the entire world, overcoming anguish, suffering, and the cruel boot of the corrupt Roman Empire. They would soon inaugurate a new era of peace, righteousness, and justice, an era in which "the Knowledge of G-d would cover the earth as water covers the seas." The fact that the Jews were able to unite around a single leader separates this event from the great revolt of the previous century when bitterly divided factions warred with each other inside the walls of Jerusalem even as the Roman army stormed the gates.
The rebellion raged for six years. Bar Kochba's army achieved many initial victories. Many non-Jews joined Bar Kochba's army -- it is reported that it grew to 350,000 men -- more men than the Roman Army. Bar Kochba was so successful that Hadrian called in all of his best troops from England and Gaul. Rome felt threatened as never before. On Lag B'Omer, it is believed by some, Bar Kochba's army reconquered Jerusalem, and we celebrate that great event today. For four years Jewish independence was restored. Many believe that Bar Kochba actually began to rebuild the Beit Hamikdash, the Temple. Some even believe that he completed the building of the Third Temple.
BAR KOCHBA'S DOWNFALL
There were two Roman legions in the country when the uprising began, one in Jerusalem and one near Megido. Both were decimated by Bar Kochba's men. Reinforcements were dispatched from Trans-Jordan, Syria and Egypt but these, too, were mauled. The legion sent from Egypt, the 22nd, disappeared from the listings of military units published in Rome, and scholars speculate that it was cut up so badly, probably around Lachish, that it ceased to exist as an organized force. The Jews apparently employed guerilla tactics -- foraying from their underground lairs, ambushing convoys and striking at night.
In desperation, Hadrian sent for his best commander, Julius Severus, who was then engaged in battle at the hills of far off Wales. Severus imported legions from the lands of Britain, Switzerland, Austria, Hungary and Bulgaria. So badly had the Romans been hurt in the bruising campaign that Severus, upon returning to Rome to report to the Senate on his success, omitted the customary formula "I and my army are well."
This was total war. In the middle of the effort to rebuild the Beit Hamikdash the tide turned and Bar Kochba lost the support of Rabbi Akiva and the Sages who backed him. What happened? Bar Kochba had murdered the sage Rabbi Elazar. He accused the great Rabbi of revealing the secret entrances of the fortress city of Betar to the Romans. It is now believed that this betrayal was the work of the Jewish Christians who wanted to undermine Bar Kochba. Rabbi Akiva then realized that Bar Kochba no longer possessed the qualities which initially led him to believe that he was the Messiah.
There was an additional spiritual dimension to the failure of the Messiah-ship of Bar Kochba as well; whether the spiritual failure of Rabbi Akiva's students was the cause -- or whether it was the failure of Bar Kochba to rise to the spiritual heights expected of the Messiah is beyond our knowledge. For then -- out of the blue, the great plague Askera descended and struck. The dream collapsed. For reasons that will probably forever remain obscure, the students of Rabbi Akiva were not considered by Heaven to have reached the supreme spiritual heights necessary to bring about the Messianic Age. As great as they were, an important factor was missing.
The Talmud tells us that "Rabbi Akiva's students didn't show proper respect one for the other." Precisely what this phrase refers to we do not know. With greatness comes heightened responsibility and with greatness comes a magnification of reward and punishment. For their failure and deficiencies -- which would certainly be counted as minor in a generation such as ours, but which were crucial for great men on their high spiritual level -- their mission was cancelled and they died a mysterious death.
With them died the Messianic hope of that era and for thousands of years to come. Bar Kochba was not a false messiah but a failed messiah. In the terrible war which followed, Bar Kochba and his army were destroyed in the great battles defending the fortress city of Betar. The war had been a catastrophe. Dodio Cassius reports the death of 580,000 Jews by Roman swords in addition to those who died of hunger and disease. Some scholars think that the bulk of the Jewish population of Judea was destroyed in battle and in subsequent massacres. One historian believes that the Jews lost a third of their number in the war, perhaps more fatalities than in the Great Revolt of the year 70.
For the survivors, the Bar Kochba uprising marked the great divide between the hope for national independence and dispersal in the Diaspora. The trauma of Betar coming after the fall of Jerusalem effected deep changes in the Jewish people. The stiff necked, stubborn, fanatically independent people that did not hesitate to make repeated suicidal lunges at the mightiest superpower of antiquity lost its warlike instincts. It would be 2,000 years before there would be a Jewish fighting force. As a result, the hope of the Jew for redemption was to be delayed for at least two thousand years. In the great and tragic defeat not only were between half a million to six hundred thousand Jews killed but the Romans were determined, once and for all to uproot the Jewish religion and the Jewish people -- to bring an end to their hopes and their dreams.
It is for this reason that we mourn today. The mourning of Sefirah is not for the students alone, but for the failure of the Jewish people to bring about the Messianic Age, for the fall of the curtain on Jewish independence, Jewish hopes and Jewish Messianic ambitions. Every anti-Semitic outbreak for which Jews suffered since that day, every pogrom, massacre, crusade,
Holocaust, and banishment that took the toll of so many millions during the two thousand year long and bitter night of exile, wandering and persecution, must be traced directly to the failure of Bar Kochba -- but ultimately to the failure of the students of Rabbi Akiva. This was a tragedy of inestimable proportions to a war-ravaged world suffering under the bitter yoke of Rome as well as to the Jewish people. Rome did not fall at that time, but its fury and rage led to the exile and dismemberment of the Jewish people.
Yet, on that very Lag B'Omer day two thousand years ago, a new hidden light of hope emerged. In the midst of defeat, the great sage, Rabbi Shimon Bar-Yochai revealed to a small number of students the secrets of the mystical Zohar. In the Zohar, in its formulas, disciplines and spirituality, lie the secrets whose seed will bring about the coming of the Messiah. The Zohar's living tradition has kept that hope alive down to this very day. On Lag B'Omer the plague stopped, the dream was delayed, but it was not destroyed. It was to be nurtured through the generations -- the stirrings of its realization enliven us today.
Because Lag B'Omer deals with the secrets of the future Messianic Age, it cannot be discussed openly or understood as clearly as can the Exodus or other events of the past. Whenever we stand between Passover and Shavuot -- between our physical liberation from Egypt and our spiritual elevation during the Revelation at Sinai we recall those chilling events. For today we are also able to celebrate the liberation of Jerusalem and the site of our destroyed Temple. History is bringing together so many crucial events, -- the history of our ancient past is once again coming alive in the land of our fathers.
There are frightening parallels between our own age and the age of Rabbi Akiva and Bar Kochba. Following a frightful Holocaust which many believed would spell the end of the Jewish people, we experienced a restoration of Jewish independence -- once more did a Jewish army score miraculous victories against overwhelming odds. Following the destruction of the great European centers of Torah scholarship, we witnessed the rebuilding of yeshivot in America and in Israel. We experienced a great revival of Torah study. The teshuva movement has brought about a return to Torah for so many who strayed. Jerusalem and the Temple Mount are in our hands.
All around us world empires are tottering while despair and corruption rages. Once again, the Jewish people has been entrusted with a great and frightful opportunity. Once again we have been given the potential to recreate a Jewish civilization of Torah greatness in our own land. Will we succeed or will our efforts be aborted because of our own failures, our own inability to respect the differences within the Torah community and unite the Jewish people to our cause?
The personality of Rabbi Akiba itself offers frightful
lessons and opportunities. It was Rabbi Akiva who understood that "love
your fellow as you love yourself" is the over-riding principle which the
Torah people must internalize if it is to achieve its goals. Rabbi Akiva, too,
is the quintessential ba'al teshuva -- it was he who was forty years old and
was unable to distinguish between an aleph and a bet -- it was he who rose to
be Jewry's greatest Torah scholar. Hundreds of thousands of Jews; Americans,
Israelis, and Russians are today's potential Rabbi Akivas. The fate of Jewry
and the achievement of Heaven's greatest goals are in the hands of this
generation. Will we attempt to achieve them or will we withdraw into our own
selfish cocoons by refusing to shoulder the responsibilities which history and
history's God has set before us? It is not enough to wait for the Messiah's
coming; we must toil to perfect our Torah lives if we are to bring about his
speedy arrival. Only if we learn from the lesson of Rabbi Akiva's students will
we understand that the coming of the Messiah depends on us.
The inner meaning of 50 and why Shavuot has no date
by Rabbi Doniel Baron
Every Jewish holiday falls on a specific day of the month, with one exception: Shavuot, the day on which we accepted the Torah. Shavuot is always the 50th day following the beginning of Passover. Under the essential Jewish calendar in which the rabbinical court determined the beginning of a month through witnesses who saw the new moon, it could technically fall on any one of three dates since the number of days in a Jewish month could vary from year to year. The name Shavuot alludes to its independence from the standard calendar. The name means "weeks," demonstrating how the holiday marks the culmination of seven weeks regardless of the date. What is the essence of that dateless day? Hints to the answer lie within the process that leads to Shavuot, the book we read on Shavuot, and the number 50 itself.
The key to understanding Shavuot lies within the process that leads up to it. We start counting the days from our exodus from Egypt, our birth as a people, and continue to count until Shavuot, the 50th day. That count marks a period of national metamorphosis. The Jewish people had been so entrenched in Egypt that the Torah described the Exodus as the extraction of one nation from amidst another. As a child just born, we were in our spiritual infancy and in just 50 days we achieved the lofty stature that enabled us to receive the Torah. Our count begins with a simple sacrifice of barley, food regarded as animal fodder. It culminates with a special sacrifice of the finest bread, human food, signifying our national arrival at a new level of existence.
The progression from a fledgling people to a mature nation is also reflected in the story of Ruth which we read on Shavuot. Ruth was a Moabite princess who married a Jew. When her husband died, Ruth, still young, could have easily returned to her people and been a celebrity in the royal set. Instead, she tenaciously clung to Naomi, her Jewish mother-in-law, and was determined to convert and embrace Judaism despite attempts to dissuade her. She joined the Jewish nation penniless with only her mother in law as a friend. Yet her self sacrifice and quality was noticed by a wealthy landowner and prominent judge named Boaz from whose field she would collect leftover grain for herself and Naomi. He eventually married her, and that relationship gave rise to the scion of the Jewish monarchy and King David ultimately descended from her. Our tradition teaches that the Mashiach, the future king of the Jewish people, will come from that line as well. Since David was born on Shavuot, we read the story of his ancestry on that day.
The irony of the Jewish royal family's origin is remarkable. Moab was the lowliest of nations, known for its cruelty, especially to the Jews, and overt promiscuity. Moab's own ancestry itself was of questionable nature. Not only did it stem from an incestuous relationship between Lot and his daughter who got her father drunk with a specific purpose in mind, but the nation's very name announced the act. That daughter called her offspring "Moab" which literally means "from my father." Yet David nonetheless came from the family of that Moabite princess who, at least in title, represented everything that Moab stood for.
Ruth, her re-birth as a Jew, and the transformation which made King David, born on Shavuot, parallels our national march from Passover to Shavuot. We begin on the lowest of levels just as Ruth did, but work our way up to the point at which we can receive Torah.
The Meaning of Fifty
Looking deeper, we can find this very theme reflected in our counting toward Shavuot, and the day's identity as the 50th day of a count we initiate. The secret lies in the number 50 itself. According to Jewish tradition, the natural world is predicated on systems of seven. In time, there are seven days of the week. In space, a central point can expand in six opposite directions: right and left, up and down, forward and backward, the point itself being the central theme around which all is situated. The word sheva, seven, has the same characters as the word savea, meaning satiated, indicating a realm which represents full expansion of the possibilities.
Fifty symbolizes the ability to transcend all the details and enter a new and higher realm.
It follows that anything beyond seven represents a world that transcends nature -- a higher realm. The word for eight, shmoneh, comes from the word shamen, fat, indicating something that goes beyond its own borders. A brit, circumcision which marks entry into a covenant with God, therefore, takes place on the eighth day, a day that goes beyond all worldly matters and connects the human with the Divine.
Taking this theme to the next level, the fullest expansion of the realm of nature is found when one multiplies seven by seven. The result is 49. Going one beyond brings us to 50, which symbolizes the ability to transcend all the details and enter a new and higher realm. But how does that 50th level correlate with a nation's march from infancy to maturity? What connection is there to Ruth's growing from the most degenerate of Moab to the mother of Jewish royalty? The key to unlocking the meaning of the 50th level lies within a biblical story concerning our forefather Yaakov.
En route to Israel, Yaakov met up with his brother Eisav who was coming to "greet" him with an army of 400 soldiers. Considering Eisav's earlier resolution to kill Yaakov, Yaakov prayed, prepared for war, and, also sent waves of gifts to appease his brother. At first Eisav refused the bounty, and responded with "yesh li rav, I have many things." However, Yaakov insisted and responded with "yesh li kol¸ I have everything." Yaakov prevailed, and Eisav accepted all the gifts.
What was the dialogue really about? How was Yaakov's possession of "kol," everything, the factor that determined that Eisav would accept the gifts after all?
Yaakov fused everything he owned to a larger whole, a transcendent oneness.
Eisav's initial protests flowed from his saying that he had rav, many or much. Indeed, Eisav represents a world predicated on multitudes, on many and on quantity. When Eisav's family numbered only a few people, the Torah referred to them as nefashot, souls, in the plural. In contrast, when Yaakov's family numbered 70, the Torah called them nefesh, soul, in the singular. The power of Yaakov and the meaning of his having kol is that Yaakov was not one who simply amassed wealth. Instead, there was a unifying theme in everything he owned, and every individual unit he had fused to a larger whole, a transcendent oneness. Yaakov truly had everything, and the gift was appropriate for Eisav, for whom more quantity was always a good thing.
In our countdown toward Shavuot, we strive to reach the level of Yaakov. We count 49 days, representing the world of Eisav, the realm of multitude in the full expansion of the number seven representing nature. We reach the maximum of a world of quantity. Not surprisingly, Moab, Ruth's mother nation, is 49 in gematria, representing the world of all that is physical, of amassing quantity. Yet we go a step beyond, and reach the 50th, represented by the kol possessed by Yaakov described. The numerical value of kol is 50. Our kol enables us to go beyond the details and to fuse them into one whole unit, to transcend the word of quantity and reach a unified whole. It is that lofty level that brings us from infancy, from our newborn status to maturity, and transforms every experience we have along the way into a single theme. It enables us to come from the lowest depths, for the Davidic line to come from the humblest origins, and to reach the highest places.
We received the Torah on the 50th day, not on a calendar date. It is the product of our counting through every natural level, and achieving transcendence to the point that we don't even count the fiftieth day - a date which is not quantifiable. Instead, we arrive at it. On that day, we stood under Mount Sinai as one person with one heart. We were not millions but simply one. In a parallel manner, the Torah addresses every aspect of life, and provides guidance for any conceivable circumstance. It unifies every detail, fuses every disparate component. It is the ultimate kol. It enables us to take our most base experiences and our humble origins and to unite them to a larger cause.
To this day, that power survives. Through the process of Shavuot and the days that lead up to it, we can transcend our past, and unite all the details of our prior experience to bring us to the point that we transcend what we were and become something greater.
(Areas underlined and in blue by KolHaTor Editor for emphasis.)
She was a Moabite princess who converted to Judaism in the 10th century BCE, but what does her story have to do with the events at Mount Sinai more than 300 years earlier?
by Rabbi Noson Weisz
Why is it that we read the Book of Ruth -- the story of a Moabite woman who converted to Judaism and who eventually married a judge of Israel, Boaz -- on Shavuot, the holiday when we celebrate the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai?
Torah commentators offer two major theses to explain the custom:
· that Ruth was the model of Torah acceptance, and
· that without her Jewish history could not continue.
Both are puzzling as we shall see, and we shall explore them one by one.
The first one seems quite straightforward, at least at first glance: Shavuot commemorates the acceptance of the Torah by the Jewish people, and the Book of Ruth describes the acceptance of the Torah by a single individual through an act of conversion.
Inasmuch as we were all converts at Mt. Sinai, her experience is a reminder to us that we are all Jews (KolHaTor Editor: in our return to Torah and the Covenant as the dispersed in the nations becoming united in the Restoration of the 2 divided Kingdoms of Israel.) only thanks to our own act of Torah acceptance. Judaism is not a racial trait and is not automatic for anyone; at bottom it is based on conversion and Torah acceptance even for the children of Abraham.
Ruth was no ordinary convert. Her name gives us a clue to her essence. In Hebrew, Ruth's name is comprised of the letters reish, vav, tav, which add up to a numerical value of 606. As all human beings have an obligation to observe the seven Noachide commandments -- so called because they were given after the flood -- as did Ruth upon her birth as a Moabite. Add those seven commandments to the value of her name and you get 613, the number of commandments in the Torah.
The essence of Ruth, her driving life force was the discovery and acceptance of the 606 commandments she was missing. Thus Ruth is a Torah seeker par excellence who is held up to the rest of us as the shining model of proper Torah acceptance. If we could learn to emulate Ruth in our own act of Torah acceptance, the act of Divine service that is the essence of Shavuot, we would succeed in absorbing the entire spiritual input offered by G-d on the Shavuot holiday. (See the commentary of the Gaon of Vilna on the Book of Ruth.)
While quite obvious at first glance, this theme does present a major difficulty on closer examination.
Anyone reading the story of Ruth is immediately struck by the strength of her dedication to her mother in law, Naomi. The famous passage from which the Talmud derives many of the laws of conversion (Yevomot 47b) portrays Ruth's stubborn refusal to part from Naomi in the strongest possible terms.
But Ruth said, 'Do not urge me to leave you, to turn back from following you. For where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people are my people, and your God my God; where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. Thus may God do to me, and so may He do more, if anything but death separates me from you. (Ruth 1:16-17)
Such love and commitment to the welfare of another person are extremely admirable qualities, but are unrelated to belief in G-d and in His Torah. Shouldn't someone who is held up to us as a shining example to emulate in our own acceptance of Torah be portrayed as being driven by faith and idealism rather than by her attachment to a particular person, or indeed, to the entire Jewish people for that matter?
ATTACHMENT TO G-D
Let us explore this point through an examination of a difficult passage of Talmud:
Rabbi Elazar said: "People who have no Torah knowledge will not experience the revival of the dead, as it is written, (in Isaiah 26): The dead shall not live. You might think this refers to all the dead, that's why it is followed up by: Those requiring a cure will not rise. Only those whose hold on the words of Torah is shaky and weak will not rise."
Rabbi Yochanan responded: "You have brought no pleasure to their Maker by making this statement about the ignorant in Torah."
Rabbi Elazar saw that his words caused Rabbi Yochanan anguish. He said, "My Rebbe, I have found a cure for them in the Torah. It is written, But you who cleave to YHVH your God, you are all alive today (Deut 4:4). But how is it possible for a human being to be attached to the Divine Presence when it is written For YHVH your God, He is a consuming fire (Ibid 24). Can a person attach himself to fire? To teach you, that whoever marries his daughter to a Torah scholar, or helps the Torah scholar in business or shares his property with a scholar, is looked upon by G-d as attached to Himself ... (Talmud, Kesubot, 111b)
Why should the resurrection be related to one's level of scholarship, and how can we relate to the idea that attachment to the Torah scholar is the equivalent of attachment to G-d?
One of the 613 commandments is the commandment to love G-d. This seems like an impossible commandment to fulfill. How can you love somebody who you do not know? Furthermore, G-d is infinite and we are not, we have no comprehension of how He thinks, what His interests are, or His hobbies or anything about Him.
Without knowing some of these details at least about another person it would be impossible for us to honestly say we loved him. We might think he is a very important person, we might even admire him, but to feel love and attachment to somebody, we must be somewhat familiar with the object of our affections.
Of course, this is also true about our love of G0d. We can only feel love for G-d to the extent that we develop a knowledge of Him and familiarity with Him.
But how can we do this?
The obvious solution is through our knowledge of Torah. G-d gave us a lot of information about Himself in His Torah. He told us about His sense of justice and fairness, about His priorities and feelings, about His hopes and dreams for our future.
There are two aspects to Torah knowledge and scholarship:
1. All Jews must amass sufficient Torah knowledge to know how to carry out the commandments properly, as the performance of the commandments is an obligation.
2. The second aspect is unrelated to the performance of the commandments. The Talmud Chacham (KolHaTor Editor: Chacham is an honorific title given to one well versed in Jewish law) studies the Torah to become familiar with G-d, and learn His culture.
The first word of the Ten Commandments is Anochi. The Talmud says this is an acrostic that stands for ano nafshi kasvis yahavis, literally "I have written myself into this book that I am giving you." (Talmud Shabos, 105a). The Talmud Chacham who spends his life immersed in Torah study, is imbibing the very soul of G-d along with the words of Torah that he is learning.
Our aim is familiarity with G-d as a personality that we can have a relationship with. We want to love G-d and have Him love us in return, and we want to be aware of the feelings on both sides. For this we need the Talmud Chacham.
It is only through him that we obtain the knowledge of G-d that is a prerequisite to any possible relationship with Him. Just as in the case of human love, knowledge precedes feelings, so it is with the love of G-d. Without the Torah scholar this knowledge, and therefore this love, would be absent from the world.
It is one of the many wonders of Judaism that often the Tzaddik who immerses himself in the service of G-d, such as prayer and good works, feels a greater love for G-d than the Torah scholar, who spends his life in intellectual pursuit. But without the knowledge of G-d generated by the Torah scholar, the Tzaddik would not have known how to get started in his pursuit of the emotional attachment to G-d.
Love of G-d thus radiates outward from the Torah. The Tzaddik attaches himself to the Torah scholar and is the first to feel this love, and those who attach themselves to the Tzaddik detect its radiant warmth and energy through him. But the ultimate source of this love is the Torah and our access to the Torah must necessarily depend on the amount of Torah knowledge in our possession thanks to the efforts and hard work of the Torah scholar.
Ruth the Moabite was looking for the missing 606 commandments not simply because she was looking for the truth and the right way to live, although no doubt these impulses were also a part of her drive to conversion. But chiefly, she wanted to attach herself to G-d to cleave to Him, to connect herself to the source of all life and being.
The only way to do this was to attach herself to a person who was already attached in this way to G-d. Thus she followed Naomi the person, rather than the abstract truth.
We read her story on Shavuot to teach us that this is the type of Torah acceptance we are seeking. We are not after G-d's laws. We are seeking to attach ourselves to G-d Himself.
The second major thesis offered by the commentators for reading the Book of Ruth on Shavuot is also hinted to in her name. She is named Ruth because her great grandson, King David showered G-d with his songs and praises. (Yalkut, Tehilim, 247) The word rave in Hebrew, a play on the letters of Ruth's name means "to shower," and David authored the book of Psalms, the basic hymnbook to G-d of the majority of mankind. According to tradition, Shavuot is David's birthday as well as the day on which he passed away, and his full genealogy is recited at the conclusion of the Book of Ruth.
The appreciation of this thesis requires some more background:
G-d said to Moses: 'You shall not distress Moab, and you shall not provoke war with them.' (Deut. 2:9) Why would it have occurred to Moses to wage war with Moab without G-d's permission? Moses reasoned thus: If the Midionites who only came to assist Moab (in the war Moab waged with Israel described in Parshat Balak) the Torah commanded, Harass the Midionites and smite them; for they harassed you through their conspiracy that they conspired against you ... (Numbers 25:17-18). Surely the same policy should be applied against the Moabites who were the instigators. But G-d told Moses, 'I think differently! I still have a wonderful treasure to pull out, Ruth the Moabite.'(Talmud, Baba Kama 38a)
Not only was Ruth David's great grandmother. It was specifically she that was required to be able to bring David into the world. The need for her was so great that the entire Moabite nation was sustained for several hundred years in her merit while the world waited for Ruth to be born. Can we find any sources to uncover why Ruth the Moabite specifically was needed to bring the line of David from whom would descend the Messiah into the world?
[The angels urged Lot, saying,] 'Take your wife and your two daughters who are present.' (Genesis 19:15) The Hebrew word nimzoas ["who are present"] in this verse is a reference to two important discoveries: Ruth the Moabite and Na'amah the Amonite. It is written I found my servant David. Where did God find him? In Sodom (Yalkut, Lech lecho, 70).
When G-d destroyed Sodom he saved Lot because of his two daughters. The daughters, believed that they and their father were the only people left on earth, engaged in acts of incest with him. As a result one gave birth to the progenitor of Moab, and the other to the progenitor of Amon. It would thus seem that Ruth was needed because she was a descendant of Lot? And who was Lot?
Now these are the chronicles of Terah: Terah begot Abram, Nahor and Haran; and Haran begot Lot ... And Abram and Nahor took themselves wives. The name of Abram's wife was Sarai, and the name of Nahor's wife was Milka, the daughter of Haran, the father of Milka and the father of Iscah. (Genesis 11:27-28)
Close examination of this passage reveals an astounding piece of information. It turns out that Haran, Abram's brother, was the grandfather of all of the most important Jewish women in history. The rabbis teach that Iscah was Sara (see Rashi Ibid), Rebecca was Milka's grand-daughter, and all of Jacob's wives were her great grand daughters. Lot was Haran's son and therefore Ruth was also a grand-daughter.
Can this be a coincidence? Let us attempt to uncover the significance of all this.
Electricity was known and understood for many years by the time Edison was born. Graham Bell uncovered nothing new about the nature of sound waves. Yet without these two geniuses the knowledge of electricity and sound waves would not have benefited the world. There is a special genius involved in the exploitation of ideas, just as there is a genius in their discovery. In
Hebrew this genius is known as binah, often translated as "understanding," and it is the special property of women.
In the prelude to Sinai, we read:
So shall you say to the House of Jacob and relate to the Children of Israel (Exodus 18:3)
Rashi explains why the seeming redundancy "House of Jacob," and "Children of Israel." The House of Jacob" refers to Jewish women -- Jewish women are the Jewish house.
The ideas of Judaism come to life in the Jewish home and are translated into reality by the guidance of the Jewish woman.
The Jewish man carries the obligation of learning the Torah, but it is the Jewish woman who translates its ideas into the realities of everyday living. Abraham was the genius who brought the knowledge of G-d into the world, but it was his brother Haran who carried the seeds of the genius required to translate the knowledge that Abraham discovered into everyday life. Thus the greatest Jewish women were Haran's descendants.
The Jewish Kingdom is a reflection of the Kingdom of Heaven. The Kingdom of Heaven carries in it a great power. This power is to redeem and regenerate and ensure that no part of what is noble and precious about humanity is ever lost.
Thus an act of heaven was required when Lot, Haran's son, left Abraham and became lost in Sodom. The powers of holiness and greatness that were buried in him seemed forever lost to the service of G-d. But because G-d is the absolute King and controls history even as man is free to do what he wants, He has the capacity to ensure the recovery of this lost greatness. This is the true significance of the Kingdom of Heaven.
To ensure that nothing good is ever lost and is ultimately recovered requires eternal vigilance. The conversion of Ruth made possible the recovery of the lost power of Haran required to bring about the birth of the Jewish kingdom, reflective of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. She carried the binah necessary to translate it into every day life.
LOT'S MISTAKE CORRECTED
To emphasize the aspect of redemption involved in the establishment of the Jewish Kingdom, the marriage of Ruth to Boaz -- which ultimately resulted in the birth of David -- was a "levirated" marriage. This type of marriage is specifically mandated by the Torah as a means of recovering the soul that left the world without managing to produce any issue. Thus the entire purpose of Ruth's marriage was to ensure that the soul of her first husband Machlon who died -- and the spiritual power and greatness that was latent in it -- would not be lost to the world or to Israel.
The recovery of all this lost potential happened through the correction of Lot's error by his great-great-granddaughter Ruth.
Lot left Abraham over worldly possessions. After all, he was a believer himself, he knew the truth, he had learned how to serve G-d on his own, and he thought he did not need Abraham. As it was better for him in Sodom materially, and as he didn't perceive any spiritual necessity to remain with Abraham, he left. His error was that to serve G-d it is not enough to be aware of the absolute truth. You have to be attached to Him. The attachment to G-d comes about through the attachment to the Talmud Chacham. He should have stayed with Abraham.
The Gaon of Vilna shows how Ruth corrected this mistake: by a steadfast yearning for an attachment to G-d.
One of the laws of conversion that we learn from the story of Ruth is the need to discourage the potential convert. Thus Naomi talked her daughter in law Orpa out of conversion, and she attempted to dissuade Ruth as well. At a certain point Naomi stopped.
The Gaon asks: How did Naomi know exactly when to stop? He explains: at the point she stopped, it says, When she saw that she strained to go with her, she stopped arguing with her. (Ruth 1:18) Naomi was much older than Ruth and Ruth should have had no trouble at all keeping up with Naomi; yet Naomi saw that it was a strain on Ruth to keep pace with her. From this she realized that Ruth was torn; there was a part of her that was reluctant to take the step of conversion.
Ruth was a Moabite princess according to tradition. She was used to the best things in life. She was also a beautiful young woman in the prime of life. The step she was taking would introduce her to a life of poverty; her mother-in-law had lost everything she had through her misfortunes and was returning home entirely destitute. So, in going with Naomi, Ruth was leaving a life of high status to become a lowly convert of questionable status. It was not even clear if a Jew would even be permitted to marry her. A large part of her said, "Why go to Israel? You can serve G-d wherever you are. After all these years of living in a Jewish house, you know all the laws and can observe all the commandments right where you are. There is no need for this great self sacrifice."
Ruth was torn. But what she wanted was closeness to G-d, she wanted attachment. Staying in Moab observing the commandments would not give her that; only attachment to the Talmud Chacham would. She decided to go with Naomi to join the Jewish people no matter what, but the strain of her inner conflict made it difficult for her to keep up. This is when Naomi stopped discouraging her. Naomi understood Ruth and saw that she was after an attachment to G-d. She had absorbed the true message of Judaism.
Comparing the two
tablets: one containing obligations toward God, the other obligations toward
by Rabbi Noson Weisz
The Torah contains 613 commandments. But on Mount Sinai -- the only occasion in history when the entire Jewish people had a face-to-face meeting with G-d -- G-d chose to emphasize 10.
The first two of the Ten Commandments we heard from the mouth of G-d directly without Moses as an intermediary, whereas the other eight we heard through Moses.
According to many commentators the first one isn't really a commandment at all, but more in the nature of an introductory statement to all the commandments. But there is a special common denominator that unifies these 10 and sets them apart from all the others; they are the only commandments that appear on the "Tablets of the Law."
significance of being inscribed on the tablets is explained thus by Moses:
"He (G-d) told you His covenant that He commanded you to observe, the 10 declarations, and he inscribed them on two stone tablets." (Deut. 4:13)
These 10 declarations have a dual aspect. Aside from being commandments in their own right like the rest of the 613, they constitute a special covenant between G-d and Israel. We refer to them in the Passover Haggadah as the "Two Tablets of the Covenant." It is this covenantal aspect that we propose to explore in this essay.
A covenant is not some spooky mystical bond, but merely a fancy term for a contract. Every contract is a negotiated agreement between two parties. Generally speaking, when such an agreement is reached, it is recorded and each of the parties gets a notarized copy so that they have a record of their contractual rights and obligations. By describing the Ten Commandments as a covenant, the Torah informs us that the tablets represent a copy of the contractual agreement between G-d and the Jewish (The Kingdom/Assembly of Israel) people. The tablets we received at Sinai constitute Israel's notarized copy.
But this seems like a startling idea. In what sense can commandments, which are basically orders issued by G-d, be described as negotiated agreements?
To better understand the contractual aspect of these commandments, let us review the process of negotiations that led to their culmination.
When Moses ascended the mount for the first time after the Jewish people encamped at its feet, G-d sent Moses back to the Jews with the following message:
You have seen what I did to Egypt, and that I have borne you on the wings of eagles and brought you to Me. And now, if you obey Me and keep My covenant, you shall be to Me the most beloved treasure of all peoples, for Mine is the entire world. You shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. (Exodus 19:4-6).
This speech contains G-d's offer.
Nachmanides explains what is being offered: The entire world belongs to G-d but He placed the other nations under the rule of angels. A "beloved treasure" is something that one never allows to escape from one's own careful vigilance. G-d offered the Jewish people (The Nation of Israel) His personal attention. He would attend to the affairs of the Jewish people Himself, instead of handing them over to the jurisdiction of angels as He does with other nations.
But this offer of personal Divine jurisdiction actually contains two parts. Aside from the promise of care in this world, it also offers an entry to the next world. For a treasured object never loses its value and remains permanently precious. Someone precious to G-d, who is eternal, will remain with G-d for eternity. If Israel takes up G-d's offer and becomes His treasured object, that automatically extends the deal into the realms of forever.
These two ideas are contained in the two phrases "a kingdom of priests," a reference to this world, and "a holy nation," which is a reference to the next. Note that the word "holy" in Hebrew always implies separation from physicality. Thus a "holy nation" is a nation in a non-physical sense, an other-worldly nation.
Moses came and summoned the elders of the people, and put before them all these words that G-d had commanded him. The entire people responded together and said, "Everything that G-d has spoken we shall do!" (Exodus 19:7-8)
This verse describes the Jewish people's acceptance of G-d's offer.
presented the proposition to the elders so that they might circulate among the
people, obtain their reactions and deliberate their response, but the people
pre-empted this deliberation process by enthusiastically declaring their
immediate unanimous acceptance with a single voice.
Obviously the Jews thought this was a great offer. They immediately accepted it without prior deliberation. But there must be some heavy strings attached.
Indeed there are -- the strings are the commandments themselves.
To enter the covenant you must
accept the Ten Commandments. But what is so difficult about these commandments?
A surface reading shows nothing controversial or difficult to observe.
Logic directs us to take a closer look at these commandments for the answer.
It is immediately apparent that they are divided into two parts. Indeed Jewish tradition teaches that there are two tablets: 1) one corresponding to obligations toward G-d, and 2) the other consisting of obligations toward one's fellow man. But if we examine them closely we can see that they are related.
Let us refer to the two tablets for the sake of simplicity as G-d's tablet and as man's tablet, and look at them in pairs.
I AM G-D / DON'T MURDER
The first commandment on G-d's tablet is the acceptance of G-d as our ruler. He took us out of the bondage of Egypt so that we might become His servants instead of the servants of Pharaoh. Parallel to this commandment on man's tablet we find the injunction against murder. The implication is clear. The act of murder represents a violation in spirit of the first commandment on G-d's tablet as well.
Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of G-d He made man. (Genesis 9:6)
The prohibition against murder is based on the fact that man is G-d's image. When you take a human life you are destroying G-d's image.
If a man
shall have committed a sin whose judgment is death, he shall be put to death
and you shall hang him on a gallows. His body shall not remain for the night on
the gallows, rather you shall surely bury him on that day, for a hanging person
is a curse of G-d... (Deut. 21:22-23)
The Talmud (Sanhedrin 46b) says that to murder a human being is akin to murdering G-d's twin. No greater violation of the spirit of the first commandment on G-d's tablet is imaginable.
HAVE NO OTHER G-DS / DON'T COMMIT ADULTERY
The second commandment on G-d's tablet is the injunction against idolatry. On man's tablet we find the injunction against adultery.
The injunction against idols is a prohibition against obtaining G-d's bounty contrary to His will, by getting it second hand. The idolater wants to obtain a portion of Divine bounty not according to G-d's policy. As part of the grant of free will to man, G-d makes this possible.
The institution of marriage, whose sanctity the sin of
adultery violates, is G-d's bounty against loneliness. The human symbol of the
love that extinguishes this loneliness is the female. G-d explained the
creation of woman thus:
It is not good for man to be alone; I will make him a helper corresponding to him. (Genesis 2:18)
G-d did so by splitting the human being in two, thus curing the existential angst of solitude. Both the male and female share in this bounty equally, but she is the symbol of the Divine cure. In G-d's scheme every marriage is designed with the idea that the partners serve as each other's complement.
Adultery is the taking of this Divine bounty against G-d's policy and will. This cure for the human angst was intended for a different recipient. Thus adultery parallels idolatry.
DON'T SWEAR FALSELY / DON'T STEAL
The third commandment on G-d's tablet is the prohibition against false oaths, which parallels the prohibition against theft on man's tablet.
G-d is the source of all reality. Substituting a false reality for the one that G-d established is a perversion of G-d's work. The false oath is an affirmation that G-d is associated with a reality that He did not intend.
Just as G-d is the source of all reality, He is the source of all bounty. Something intended for Reuven cannot help to sustain Shimon. If G-d intended it for Reuven, Shimon's appropriation of it is also a perversion of true reality.
If not for the fact that G-d's connection with reality is concealed by nature to allow man free choice, no one could possibly reach out his hand to take what belongs to someone else. The hand would whither as it stretched and the stolen object would disappear as soon as it landed in the wrong hand.
KEEP SHABBAT / DON'T TESTIFY FALSELY
The fourth commandment on G-d's tablet is Shabbat observance. Paralleling it on man's tablet is the prohibition against testifying falsely.
Sabbath observance is a testimony to G-d's creation. If G-d is the creator, He is also the source of all creative power in the world. Everything that man creates and accomplishes is in reality a channeling of G-d's creative power. If the world were not designed to conceal G-d's presence so as to allow man free will, the laws of Shabbat would be an accurate depiction of creation as it really appears. Only G-d creates; man merely enjoys the bounty of G-d's creative power.
The failure to observe the Sabbath is an act of false testimony. This false testimony claims that there is an uncreated, purposeless world with no final destination.
Bearing false witness against a fellow human being places one's fellow in a world that was not created by the channeling of G-d's creative power. The false witness created this alternative universe in his testimony. Thus the lack of Shabbat observance and the bearing of false witness are exact parallels.
HONOR YOUR PARENTS / DON'T COVET
The final commandment on G-d's tablet is to respect one's parents. Paralleling this commandment on man's tablet is the prohibition against coveting your neighbor's wife or anything belonging to your neighbor.
Instead of beginning with G-d's tablet and switching over to man's, let's take the opposite approach on this one.
Ibn Ezra asks a provocative question about the prohibition to covet: How is it possible to command a person not to desire something that is inherently desirable?
We can easily comprehend the prohibition against actualizing illicit desires in real life, but these prohibitions concerning actualization are already stated in the first four prohibitions on man's tablet. How can we relate to a prohibition against desire itself?
Ibn Ezra answers with a metaphor. By the rules of human nature, the peasant covets his fellow peasant's wife and not the king's daughter. When he sees the princess passing by in her carriage, even if he finds her beautiful, he does not covet her. She is beyond his reach. Any thoughts he may have about her are in the nature of pure fantasies rather than actualizable desires.
If a person is properly oriented in the world, everything that belongs to someone else is in the same relationship to him as the unobtainable princess is to the peasant. G-d gives everyone the things they need to have in order to successfully conduct their lives. It is not circumstance that determines what each person has; rather this is determined by Divine decisions, which are based on rational considerations of what is beneficial.
If the things that I desire are within my permitted reach, then I am entitled to assume that G-d placed them there deliberately, because I really can use them to achieve the goals that He set for me. If they are not within my permitted reach, I should conclude that they are not good for me to have and my only link to them is in the harmless fantasy world of my imagination.
Coveting things that belong to other people is the clearest danger signal that life is out of focus. In the world according to the Ten Commandments, every person is unique in the eyes of G-d; every person is a covenantal partner. Each such partner lives in his own world surrounded by the things that he specifically needs to test his commitment to the covenantal relationship, and to help him grow into his full potential as G-d's partner.
The world is not a jungle where we all compete for the same prize, which properly belongs according to jungle law to the swiftest and the most able. In such a world, whatever anyone else may have is a clear possibility for me as well, especially if I consider myself more fit. In the jungle world it is permissible to covet anything no matter who has it. As long as you go about taking it away from its present owner in ways that society doesn't outlaw, you are doing no wrong. The person who covets is living in the wrong world.
Moving back to G-d's tablet, we find the same idea expressed in the commandment to honor one's parents. This commandment has nothing to do with conventional respect and gratitude. For the majority of us who have had the good fortune to be raised in normal loving homes, the feelings of gratitude toward our parents are an inseparable part of our orientation to the world.
There is no need to reinforce human nature through commandments. But the honor meant here is another matter altogether.
Honor is assigned on the basis of what you consider important in life, not on the basis of gratitude. Every person feels the pull of the brave new world out there. The lure of new ideas and different lifestyles is a very powerful force within all of us. We tend to patronize the world of our parents as being outmoded and old-fashioned. We feel the urge to spread our wings and fly off in new directions.
But the world G-d placed us in is the world of our parents. Three partners join forces in the creation of a person: G-d, his father and his mother (Talmud, Nidah 31a). G-d does not choose his partners at random. If He selected these particular partners, He wants the child to be subjected to their world. The values passed on by one's parents create the proper background to one's life, selected by G-d Himself. The parents must be honored, not merely loved.
Coveting what belongs to another and not honoring one's parents have the same common source, the belief that one is in the wrong world.
The predominant theme of the tablets is that it is impossible to separate one's interactions with other people from one's interactions with G-d. In the world of the covenant, where Israel becomes a nation of priests and a holy people, the sanctity of G-d spreads out to embrace all aspects of life. There is no getting away from Him.
The covenant is not about obedience to G-d's orders, or the adoption of certain customs and practices. The covenant is about the willingness to inhabit a common, shared world with G-d where every aspect and relationship in life is tinged by the fact that it takes place in His all-embracing presence. For someone who desires to live in his own space, the covenant is an intolerable burden.
It actually turns out that G-d's offer to make us into a nation of priests and a holy people is a double-edged sword. We must be willing to become a nation of priests and a holy people as well. This entails inhabiting a world where it is impossible to draw any distinct lines between the areas designated as sacred, and those that can be considered secular and ordinary.
We become such holy priests only by allowing the two tablets of the law to converge into a single covenantal framework. The strings attached to G-d's offer are the chains that bind together the secular and the sacred into a single coherent life.
(Areas underlined and in blue done by KolHaTor Editor for emphasis.)
The experience of synesthesia, where the Jews at Mount Sinai actually saw sounds.
by Rabbi Ari Kahn
Shavuot commemorates the greatest moment in human history -- the Revelation of G-d on Mount Sinai.
Despite the obvious importance of the event, the nature and content of the revelation remain somewhat obscure. What was revealed? And when? There is also confusion regarding the response of the Israelites to the revelation.
Rashi, citing Michilta, explains that all of the Ten Commandments were revealed simultaneously, in a manner "which a person can not possibly articulate," or, to use the language of the Midrash, "that which a mouth could not say, nor could ears hear."
If, indeed, G-d spoke all Ten Commandments at once, no one could possibly have understood a thing. But what was the purpose of a revelation that the people could not understand? And, why would G-d speak in a manner that they couldn't hear?
SEEING THE VOICES
The verse immediately following the Ten Commandments
And the entire nation saw the voices and the thunder, and the sound of the shofar, and the mountain was consumed with smoke. The people saw and were frightened; therefore they stood at a distance. They said to Moses, 'You speak to us and we will hear, but G-d shall not speak to us lest we die.' [Exodus 20:15-16]
Here the Torah tells us that the people saw the sounds, and this frightened them. They ask Moses to speak, in order that they might hear. Moses counters, and tells the people:
'Do not be frightened. G-d desires to uplift you, that the fear (awe) of G-d will be upon you, that you will be unable to sin.' The people stood from afar, and Moses approached the mist from where G-d (communicated). [Exodus 20:17,18]
That the people saw, rather than heard the sounds, is
further confirmed by the very next verse:
G-d said to Moses, 'Thus tell the people, "You have seen that from heaven I have spoken with you."' [Exodus 20:18]
And by the words of Rashi:
They saw the sounds; they saw that which is usually heard, that which was impossible to see under different circumstances. [Rashi 20:15]
Again the verb "see" is used instead of "hear," and we get a picture of G-d speaking in a miraculous way -- it is a communication that the people can see, but cannot hear. And when G-d invites them to listen, they were so awestruck that they recoil and miss that opportunity.
Thus far our understanding is that G-d spoke in a manner which was unmistakable. The revelation was completely supernatural. No one could doubt that the sounds -- which they "saw" -- emanated from G-d.
people still did not know what G-d had said, because they could not hear.
Therefore, G-d began to repeat the commandments in a manner which the people
It was at that point the people missed their historic opportunity, failed to seize the moment, and asked that Moses speak instead. Our Sages teach that the first two commandments were given by G-d prior to the people making the plea to Moses. [see Rashi 19:19 based on Makkot 24a]
To make matters even more complicated, we are taught, in the subsequent Torah portion:
G-d said to Moses, 'Ascend to Me, to the mountain, and remain there. I will give you the stone tablets, the Torah, and the commandments, which I have written for instruction.' [Exodus 24:12] This verse seems to indicate that the Torah which Moses received at Sinai was more than the Ten Commandments. Rashi explains:
All 613 commandments are subsumed in the Ten Commandments. [Rashi 24:12]
This teaching complicates matters even more. We now ask: Did G-d communicate all 613 Commandments at Sinai, despite the fact that the people could not hear even one word?!
TEN OR 613?
That the communication at Sinai consisted of -- or was to have consisted of all 613 commandments -- is a theme which is well-developed in Midrashic, Kabbalistic, and Chassidic thought. If the Torah which Moses received at Sinai contained all 613 commandments and this is what we mean by "Torah from Sinai," then perhaps this may also explain the nature of the revelation per se.
If all 613 commandments are included in the Ten Commandments, then when G-d said all ten simultaneously, surely G-d must have communicated all 613 commandments at once!
If this is indeed the case, we may understand why the people were unable to hear, but they were able to "see."
The Sages explain that Moses received the totality of Torah at Sinai -- everything from the Ten Commandments through the question raised by the "precocious student, commenting in front of his master" millennia in the future.
This was certainly more information than the people could possibly have assimilated at one time, in terms of quantity and substance.
In that case, we return to our previous question: What was the purpose of a revelation of Torah which the people could not have heard?
SEEING VS. HEARING
Let us consider the fundamental difference between
seeing and hearing: A person can see an incredible amount of material at once,
but may only hear and comprehend one sound at a time.
The nature of the revelation at Sinai should be understood in this context. The primary significance of the revelation was the unmistakable fact that the ineffable, transcendent G-d was, in fact, communicating with man.
In order to accomplish this, the nature of the communication had to be fundamentally different from any other ever known. The reversal of the senses, or the suspension of the boundaries between vision and hearing, which make up our perceptions, established this as a completely supernatural experience.
The second aspect of the revelation was the presentation of the entire Torah as one organic whole. This required that vision be employed instead of normal hearing. Only if the people saw what would otherwise have been heard, could they take in the entire Torah in the way G-d wanted it presented.
The third aspect was that G-d wanted the people to hear all the details. After the entire Torah was presented at one time, G-d began to enumerate the commandments one by one.
The first objective was clearly accomplished, and the revelation at Sinai was so powerful an experience that it has served as the basis of faith for millennia.
The second objective was accomplished as well, and the people received a complete, organic vision. But without the details -- which constituted the next step -- they could not appreciate it.
The difference between seeing the beauty of Judaism, versus
listening to the details, is ultimately the difference between an
"appreciation" of Judaism versus "observance." Perhaps we
can make a leap, and say that, had the Jews been willing to listen to the
details, they would never have been able to worship a golden calf.
Once the details break down, the whole system becomes lacking. The people flinched, as it were, and were not prepared to accept the Torah that G-d wanted to give at Sinai.
when Moses descends the mountain, holding the tablets of stone, which were
written by the hand of G-d and contained all 613 commandments, he sees the Jews
worshipping the golden calf and throws the tablets to the ground.
The Yalkut Shimoni then says that the letters returned to heaven. The Beit Halevi explains [Drasha 18] that the letters which returned to heaven were the 613 commandments with the Oral Tradition.
There were, then, two occasions on which G-d desired to give man far more than the Ten Commandments, but man was simply not ready to accept that gift from G-d.
A thousand years after Shavuot, the Jews willingly reaffirmed their commitment to Torah. Why the need for two acceptances?
by Rabbi Ahron Lopiansky
Revelation of the Torah at Mount Sinai is the cornerstone of faith upon which all of Judaism rests. As Maimonides ("Foundations of the Torah" 8:1) points out, revelation is not simply a proof of faith but the perception of the Divine in the most direct way possible. While other miracles served to prove Divine existence, revelation was the experience of the Divine itself. For one brief moment, the curtains of concealment were parted, letting in the rays of the Divine in all its brightness.
Yet, strangely enough, our Sages tell us that the experience of revelation at Sinai was somehow not the ultimate in acceptance of G-d's dominion. The Talmud (Shabbat 82) tells us that at Sinai "the mountain was poised over the Jews like a barrel." The Jews were forced into accepting the Torah.
It was not until the miracle of Purim, a thousand years later, that the Jews willingly reaffirmed their commitment to Torah. It seems strange that the Jews had to be forced to accept the Torah after they beheld and experienced the Divine in all its glory; it seems even stranger that the literal description of these events in the Torah does not mention this tradition. The passages describing the giving of the Torah make no mention of force, while prior to the original Purim, the Jews were, indeed, threatened with extinction, until they repented and returned to G-d.
SEARCHING TO FILL THE VOID
In two ways does one become cognizant of the sun. One can behold the sun in its dazzling glory, or one can be locked into a pitch-dark room wherein every minute of waiting for a crack of light makes one even more aware of the joy of basking in the sun. Similarly, a father-son relationship peaks with a warm embrace at the height of a moment of joy. Yet it can be outranked by the feelings of yearning and pining that accompany a prolonged absence from home. Many a son who has not responded to a warm embrace has found the pangs of absence unbearably strong.
This phenomenon is explained in the discussion by the Maharal on the importance of the Four Questions in the Haggadah, and why someone who conducts his Passover Seder in a monologue fashion, not following a question-and-answer format, does not fulfill his obligation to tell the story of the Exodus on Passover. He explains that when one merely hears a statement, one does not incorporate into it one's personality. It is just tagged onto one's awareness. This is not the case when one receives an answer to a question. For, by having posed the question, one opens a void, and the answer fills it, forming a unified entity with the person rather than adding on a superfluity.
The Vilna Gaon's commentary on the "Song of Songs" makes a similar observation. The pleasure a person derives from food is in direct proportion to his hunger. A sated person can be presented with the tastiest of dishes, and he will reject it in disinterest; should he force the food in, it will not easily find its way down.
The Sefas Emes (in the Torah Portion of Vayetzei) also refers to this principle in explaining why our forefather Jacob did not receive his dream and prophecy until after he had left the yeshiva (Torah school/academy) of Shem and Ever. When a man is in an atmosphere of holiness, his thirst for spirituality is not comparable to the thirst that wells up within a person stumbling through the desert.
The Sefas Emes bases this on a Midrash: " My soul thirsts for you. Where? In a barren and arid land."
COMPULSION THROUGH CLARITY
Similarly, this is the difference between Shavuot and Purim -- between the festival of receiving the Torah at Sinai and the holiday of its reaffirmation in Shushan.
In the first instance, the Jewish nation was compelled to accept the Torah, but not simply by a physical force. The impact of the enormity of revelation was so immense that it was likened to the mountain poised over their heads. The brilliant light of revelation left no room for doubt, and under that circumstance it was impossible not to accept the Torah.
At Purim, however, it was not the threat to life in itself that inspired the Jewish people' s repentance and its return to pristine purity. Rather, the hiddenness of G-d -- the feeling of abandonment -- bestirred powerful yearnings for a Sinai-like encounter with the Divine.
Our Sages (Megillah 15b) tell us that when Queen Esther was to confront King Achashverosh, she cried, " My G-d, my G-d, why have You abandoned me?" To this day, the designated Psalm of Purim (according to the Vilna Gaon) is the one in which this outcry appears; and, as our Sages explain, the Psalm refers to the darkest hour of the night. Thus, while Shavuot marks the cognizance of G-d through revelation, Purim celebrates the cognizance of G-d that follows a desperate search in the darkness.
THE GIFT AND THE ACQUISITION
Torah itself consists of these two parts. One -- the Written Law -- which is "G-d's Torah," so to speak, was given to us as a revelation. Yet, as it reads, it would remain closed to us. We must refer to the second part of the Torah -- the Oral Law -- also given at Sinai, to understand the written word. This encompasses the Divine interpretations and expositions, which are accessible to human comprehension; and it includes the rules of exegesis by which G-d instructs man in how to delve more deeply into the law and teaches him how to apply it to evolving circumstances.
Our Sages (Sanhedrin 24a) describe the long and tortuous system of analyzing every word and nuance of the Torah recorded in the Babylonian Talmud as "You restored me in the darkness," because struggling through passages of Talmud is like "grappling in the dark." The Oral Torah, therefore, has special properties: it introduces queries and leads the student to conclusive answers, which become integrated into his personality. The results are deeply satisfying -- not unlike the end result of the Passover Seder, as described by the Maharal.(KolHaTor Editor: Rabbi Judah Loew, The Maharal of Prague (1525-1609))
Thus, it has been pointed out, the Mishnah opens with a question: "When does one begin reciting the Shema?" And it ends with the word "shalom" (harmony). Understanding the Oral Law is not a matter of absorbing a statement. It is an answer derived from a query, and that is why the Oral Law (and not the Written Law) has been described as the human portion of the Torah.
The same principle can be applied to explain the Maharal's statement that while the Torah was given on Shavuot, "clinging to the Torah" (deveikus beTorah) was the result of Purim. True enough, Torah can be presented to people -- and it was, on Shavuot -- but it can only become integrated within one's personality if one searches first.
Search is deeper than revelation, and its findings more permanent. What need, then, is there for revelation? To be sure, we must refer to the Kuzari's (KolHaTor Editor: "The Kuzari: In Defense of the Despised Faith" is the first new translation into English of The Kuzari since 1905, annotated and explained based on the classic commentaries. Written by Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi of Spain over a period of twenty years and completed in 1140, The Kuzari has enthralled generations of Jews and non-Jews alike with its clear-cut presentation on Judaism, and its polemics against Greek philosophy, Christianity, Islam, and Karaism.) answer, who teaches that not everyone at every time can achieve a higher level of contact with G-d through personal search, nor will G-d reveal Himself to every generation. Thus, G-d's original revelation at Sinai gives all subsequent generations -- especially those unable to reach spiritual heights on their own -- a tradition to fall back on.
There is yet another profound thought involved, one that concerns our discussion. The Jerusalem Talmud (Peah 1:1) explains the verse, "It is not an empty thing from you," to mean that if a person finds any part of the Torah "empty" -- without meaning -- it is "from you." That is, Torah cannot be faulted as being meaningless. Rather, the vacuous feeling in the student is an indication that somewhere within him he is lacking receptivity to that part of Torah. When a work of art is meaningless to a blind man, or a concert uninspiring to a deaf person, the fault is in the viewer not the composition.
The revelation at Sinai created an indelible impression on the Jewish personality, giving us, as a people, a point of reference for all future searches for truth. Thus, all the individual souls of the Jewish people had to be at Sinai -- even a proselyte had to be there (Shevuos 39a). Had we not the memory of Sinai deep within us to drive us in our exhaustive search for meaning and understanding in Torah, we could not persevere in mastering Torah; and we would not succeed. We would be "empty" from ourselves.
It is for this same reason that (as the Talmud tells us) a person learns the entire Torah when in his mother's womb, even though he is destined to forget it prior to birth; for if he had not first learned the Torah, he would not be able to relate to it later.
RETURN TO TORAH
Studying Torah, then, is always a return of sorts. This is expressed in our daily prayers: "Return us ... to your Torah."
Indeed, parts of the Oral tradition -- such as Onkelos' Aramaic translation of the Torah -- were forgotten and later rediscovered (Megillah 3a). Human endeavor alone would have proven insufficient for composing the translations, had it not been for the spark of Sinai buried deep within the soul. This creative endeavor was not one of initial discovery; it was a return.
There are other instances of creative recall. The Talmud (Menachos) relates that when Moses saw Rabbi Akiva teaching his disciples, he became envious of Rabbi Akiva' s vast knowledge. The Or HaChayim explains that, to be sure, Moses knew all of the Oral Law that Rabbi Akiva had mastered; but Rabbi Akiva's level of attainment was such that he was able to discern how the Oral Law is derived from the Written Law.
It has been said that in his last years the Vilna Gaon studied the Written Law. His encyclopedic grasp of the Oral Law was such that he was able to deduce which of the myriad teachings of the Oral Law are implicit in the Written Law. In a similar vein, the Gaon is reported to have said, "There are three levels of understanding: simple explanation (p'shat), depth (amikus), and again simple explanation (p'shat). There is, however, an infinite difference between simple explanation before depth and simple explanation after depth. The revelation one discovers after a "search" is worlds apart from the revelation one starts with.
An emissary sent to strengthen Judaism in an outlying community later reported to his rabbi that an estranged Jew had asked him to explain his mission. He responded in a parable: "In the days of yore, scribes would go from town to town filling in 'letters' that had been rubbed out from Jewish souls."
After the emissary told the rabbi this parable, the rabbi shook his head, "Heaven forbid that a letter of a Jewish soul becomes erased! It is rather like an engraving that becomes filled with dust: blow the dust away and the original letter appears."
We must think of our service as circular, not linear. We do, indeed, start with revelation. But that which is not earned has no permanence. We must toil on our own until we rediscover the revelation imbued within each of us. For when we do arrive at our goal, it is not a new enlightenment that awaits us; rather, we unearth that which has driven us so relentlessly -- the eternal flame of Sinai.
The above was excerpted from "Time Pieces: Reflections on the Jewish Year". (KolHaTor Editor: areas underlined and in blue done by us for emphasis.)
The Prophet Ezekiel
Every The Haftarah of the first day of Shavuot is taken from chapter one of Ezekiel. As is usual on Shabbat and festivals when a Haftarah is read, there is a connection and similarity between the reading from the Torah and the reading from the Prophets.
The reading from the Torah on the first day of Shavuot is about the revelation on Mount Sinai and the Giving of the Torah. G-d descended on the mountain accompanied by His Heavenly Chariot and Heavenly Court. It was an awe inspiring moment when Israel received the Torah and was consecrated as a "kingdom of priests and a holy nation," a light upon the nations of the world.
In the Haftarah, the prophet Ezekiel tells us how he was consecrated as a prophet. In a prophetic vision he saw a Divine revelation:
"Now it came to pass in the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, in the fifth day of the month, as I was among the captives by the river of Chebar, that the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of G-d."1
Ezekiel describes the Heavenly Chariot and the visions which he saw when the heavens opened to him. It was then that G-d made him a prophet and ordered him to carry the message of G-d to the people. Whether the people listened to him or not, even if they placed obstacles in his way, the prophet was to carry out his mission without fear.
When the spirit of the prophecy came upon Ezekiel, he was standing by the river Chebar, a tributary of the Euphrates in Babylon. It was in the fifth year of the Babylonian Exile.
Ezekiel was born in Jerusalem to a priestly family. His father's name was Buzi. When Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, carried off King Jehoiachin into exile in Babylon, Ezekiel was among them.
In Jerusalem Nebuchadnezzar set up Zedekiah on the throne, and made him swear allegiance to Babylon.
The first exiles in Babylon settled down to a new life in captivity. Ezekiel kept the spirit of Judaism alive among them. But the practices of idolatry that had proved Judah's undoing were deeply rooted among the exiles. The widespread idol worship of their conquerors was about to engulf them. Some of the exiles thought that G-d had sold them out to the Babylonians and that there was no longer any sense in keeping up the Torah.
Ezekiel had a difficult task in convincing his fellow exiles that the captivity was but temporary punishment for their disloyalty to G-d. He warned them that if they abandoned their faith, they would be committing national suicide. He sternly rebuked them and constantly reminded them that their fellow Jews in Judah would share their fate for the same reason that had brought disaster upon them. Many scoffed at him.
Then one day Ezekiel received the sad prophecy he dreaded so. It was on the tenth day of the month of Tevet, in the ninth year of the Babylonian Exile. Many miles away, in the land of Judah, Nevuzaradan, the general of the Babylonian armies, began his siege of the Holy City. At that very moment Ezekiel was informed of the calamity in a prophetic vision, and was ordered to record the date and the event, and to bring the sad news to his fellow exiles. The sad news was confirmed, and the Jews in Babylon realized that Ezekiel the priest was truly a prophet of G-d.
The sad news of the destruction of Jerusalem and the Beth Hamikdash reached the exiles in Babylon, and before long scores of thousands of Jews joined their brethren in the Babylonian exile.
When everything seemed lost, Ezekiel saved the day. He was no longer the stern preacher, but a consoling father full of courage and hope. He turned his harsh words against the cruel neighbors of Judah who rejoiced and gloated over Judah's downfall. He foretold their doom but assured his brethren that the Jewish people would survive all their enemies.
Ezekiel's strongest prophecy at this time was undoubtedly his prophecy in the Valley of the Dry Bones. The prophet found himself in a valley where dry bones were strewn all about. He was to prophecy that the dry bones would be resurrected. Soon an amazing sight evolved before his eyes. A storm broke out and caused the bones to join limb to limb until they became skeletons.
Presently the skeletons were clothed with flesh and skin. The dead bodies were revived by the spirit of G-d, and a mighty host rose on its feet before the prophet's eyes.
In this way the prophet told his fellow exiles that the Jewish people were to be revived to new life and glory.
Ezekiel prophesied that the breach between the Kingdom of Judah and that of Ephraim (the Ten Tribes) would be healed. There would be one united nation, restored to its land. The Holy Temple would be rebuilt, and Israel would enjoy unity with G-d as never before.
The prophet described in detail the new Jerusalem, the new Temple and the new priesthood which would eventually flourish under the reign of the House of David.
But what were Jews to do in the meantime?
Ezekiel was a great teacher. He taught that the revival of the whole nation could come only through the revival of each individual. Every Jew individually was responsible for his life and conduct and had at the same time a responsibility towards the entire nation. The secret of Redemption lay in absolute loyalty to G-d and His Torah. G-d is always ready to forgive the sinner who returns to Him in sincere repentance.
"I delight not in the death of the wicked, says the L-rd, but that he return from his evil way and live," Ezekiel taught again and again.
Under Ezekiel's influence, the exiles built synagogues and houses of Torah study in Babylon, and the spirit of Judaism was kept alive. When Ezekiel died, he was sadly mourned by all Jews, but his prophecies remained to inspire them forever.
After Nebuchadnezzar's death, his son Evill Merodach ascended the throne of the mighty Babylonian empire. He released King Jehoiachin from prison and treated him kindly.
Jehoiachin remembered the prophet Ezekiel who was buried between the rivers Chebar and Euphrates. Accompanied by scores of thousands of Jews, Jehoiachin went to his grave. There he built a tomb, and nearby a synagogue.
From far and near Jews made an annual pilgrimage to Ezekiel's tomb and prayed at his grave. The synagogue was always full of worshippers and students of the Torah. It was known as the Synagogue of Ezekiel and Jehoiachin. Every year on the Day of Atonement a special scroll of the Torah, written by the prophet's own hand, was taken from the Ark in that synagogue and read, and a perpetual light was kept burning there for many, many years.
Areas in blue and underlined by KolHaTor editor for emphasis.)
200,000 Jews converged on the Western Wall that day.
by Larry Domnitch
Over the last two millennia, Jews have visited Jerusalem in honor of the festivals, in lieu of the biblically-ordained pilgrimages. On the holiday of Shavuot, there was also the custom to visit the purported grave of King David on Mount Zion, since the date of his death was on Shavuot.
When Shavuot arrived in 1948, it was a month after the establishment of the State of Israel, and Jews could no longer continue to make the pilgrimage to the Western Wall. The Jordanians, who occupied the eastern half of the city since the War of Independence, blocked all rights of passage to the Jews. However, the pilgrimage to King David's tomb on nearby Mount Zion, located on the Israeli side of divided Jerusalem, continued. Over the next 19 years, crowds made their way to Mount Zion, where across barbed wire they could view the Old City and the Temple Mount.
On the morning of Shavuot, June 15, 1967 -- just six days after the liberation of the Old City of Jerusalem in the Six Day War -- the Old City was officially opened to the Israeli public. (The army wanted to be sure there were no landmines or snipers still in the Old City.) For the first time in almost 2,000 years, masses of Jews could visit the Western Wall and walk through the cherished streets of Judaism's capital city as members of the sovereign Jewish nation. Each Jew who ventured to the Western Wall on that unforgettable day was realizing their ancestors' dreams over the millennia. It was one of those rare, euphoric moments in history.
From the late hours of the night, thousands of Jerusalem residents streamed toward the Zion gate, eagerly awaiting entry into the Old City. At 4 a.m., the accumulating crowds were finally allowed to enter the area of the Western Wall. As the sun continued to rise, there was a steady flow of thousands who made their way to the Old City.
The Jerusalem Post described the epic scene:
Every section of the population was represented. Kibbutz members and soldiers rubbing shoulders with Neturei Karta. Mothers came with children in prams, and old men trudged steeply up Mount Zion, supported by youngsters on either side, to see the wall of the Temple before the end of their days.
Some wept, but most faces were wreathed in smiles. For 13 continuous hours, a colorful variety of all peoples trudged along in perfect order, stepping patiently when told to do so at each of six successive barriers set up by the police to regulate the flow.
In total, 200,000 visited the Western Wall that day. It was the first pilgrimage, en masse, of Jews to Jewish-controlled Jerusalem on a Jewish festival in 2,000 years, since the pilgrimages for the festivals in Temple times.
An eyewitness described the moment: "I've never known so electric an atmosphere before or since. Wherever we stopped, we began to dance. Holding aloft Torah scrolls we swayed and danced and sang at the tops of our voices. So many of the Psalms and songs are about Jerusalem and Zion, and the words reached into us a new life. As the sky lightened, we reached the Zion gate. Still singing and dancing, we poured into the narrow alleyways beyond."
On Shavuot, 3,279 years earlier, the Israelites stood at Mount Sinai and forged a unique relationship with their Creator. On the day of Shavuot following Israel's amazing victory in the Six Day War, multitudes ascended to the Western Wall, and they, too, felt the eternal magic of this moment. After all, "For from Zion shall come forth Torah, and the Word of G-d from Jerusalem."
This "pedestrian pilgrimage" has now become a recurring tradition. And on this year as well, early on Shavuot morning - after a full night of Torah learning -- the streets of Jerusalem will be filled with tens of thousands of Jews, walking with and anticipation and awe to the Western Wall. 200,000 Jews converged on the Western Wall that day.
(Areas in blue and underlined by KolHaTor editor for emphasis.)
When the Jewish people stood at Mount Sinai, the
entire nation was unified. The lesson is clear for us today.
by Rabbi Noah Weinberg
Throughout the Torah, the Jewish people are always referred to in the plural form. This is evident in Exodus 19:2, which says the Jews "journeyed (vayi'su)... arrived (vaya'vo'u)... encamped (vaya'chanu)" -- all references are in the plural.
But then this verse ends with a surprise: Vayichan sham Yisrael neged ha'har -- "and the Jews encamped (singular) opposite the mountain."
In coming to Sinai, the Jewish people are referred to in the
singular form. Rashi says this emphasizes how the entire nation encamped "with
a single goal, and a singular desire."
Unity was a prerequisite for Sinai. An event with such earthshaking consequences could only be possible with unity.
How were the Jews able to achieve such unity at Sinai?
In Exodus chapters 15-17, the Jews are having a hard time. There's no water -- and they complain. Then there's no meat -- and they complain. They're so upset that Moses is afraid they'll kill him! Then again no water. The Jews are fighting and bickering terribly.
Then Amalek came and battled Israel. An outside threat shook us. What happened next? The Jews encamped in unity at Sinai.
When Jews are threatened as a people, we get the message loud and clear. We know we are one. In the Six Day War, all Jews stood together. In the struggle for Soviet Jewry, all Jews rallied together. When we're attacked, we become one.
The prophet compares the Jewish people to a "flock of sheep." As the Midrash explains, when one is attacked, they all react.
GOAL BEFORE EGO
There is one other instance where the Torah refers to a nation in the singular. Seven weeks earlier, as the Jews approached the Red Sea, they looked back and saw Mitzrayim no'saya acha'ray'hem -- "the Egyptians journeying (singular) after them" (Exodus 14:10). The Egyptians were united in their goal of destroying the Jewish people.
In this instance, unity was negative and destructive. At Sinai, unity led to world civilization. What's the difference?
In referring to the Egyptian unity, Rashi makes a slight change in the order. He says the Egyptians pursued "with a singular desire, and with a single goal." With the Jews, the goal came first. With the Egyptians, the primary emphasis was on personal desire.
If ego, partisanism, and private agendas are what define a people, then they'll destroy themselves and the world. Whereas if a meaningful common goal of God and Torah is what unites, that will bring utopia.
The lesson is clear for us today.
(Areas underlined and in blue done by KolHaTor Editor for emphasis.)
From the KolHaTor Team
we wish you all
a blessed Shavuot!
PEACE AND BLESSINGS
Compiling editor: Agatha van der Merwe
Content control: OvadYah Avrahami
Participating editors: Dr Robert Mock, Geoffrey Messervy-Norman, Stephen Spykerman
Torah Guidance: Rabbi Avraham Feld
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