From the Heart of Heaven – Reflections on Shavuot and the Sinai Experience – Part Two
From the Heart of Heaven – Reflections on Shavuot and the Sinai Experience – Part Two
Part of an Ongoing Series entitled Hidden Sparks Beneath the Surface
By Elisheva Tavor
Just a little over 2 weeks ago we finished our counting…We counted seven weeks, seven sevens to get from Passover to Shavuot…seven weeks, forty-nine days until we reached the 50th day, traditionally known as Shavuot, Matan Torah, the Giving of the Torah…and once again we were reminded of that awe-inspiring one-time event in history when HaShem, the One G-d and the Creator of the Universe came down upon Mount Sinai and amidst the fire, “burning up to the heart of heaven” and the thunder and lightning He spoke to His people “face to face!” (Deuteronomy 4:11; 5:6)
“For ask now of the days that are past which were before you, since the day that HaShem created man upon the earth, and from one side of heaven to the other, whether there has been any such thing as this great thing or whether anything has been heard like it? Did ever people hear the Voice of HaShem speaking out of the midst of the fire as you have heard and live?”(Deuteronomy 4:29)
As we attempt to draw it down and internalize it into our lives, where do we go from here…after Sinai?
The Downhill Slide
Every year on the Festival of Shavuot we are reminded of this awe-inspiring event and have the opportunity to once again renew our covenantal relationship with HaShem!
The Hebrew calendar is circular, but it is also cyclical…it forms a spiral, giving us the opportunity to grow and to relive each festival as it comes ‘round every year! Yes we can relive Shavuot every year, but we can also reconnect to that awe-inspiring event every day…we just have to make the effort…keep our focus with our eyes and ears open and not become distracted by all the life issues that so often bombard us day by day.
At Sinai, we recall the heartfelt words of the people upon hearing the voice of their G-d, “All that HaShem has spoken we will do.”(Exodus 19:8)
But then what happened? After having had a true mountaintop experience, they plummeted down… down, down, into the valley…as if on a roller coaster ride; such is a familiar story with mankind. How could that happen, we ask? They had the best intentions, but they lost their focus. We can all learn from their mistakes.
You know the sad story of the people becoming impatient waiting for Moshe to come down from the mountain resulting in the construction of a golden calf, and how Moshe upon seeing this flagrant display of idol worship, threw those precious tablets down to the ground… and they broke into pieces at his feet. Those precious tablets, The Testimony of HaShem referred to as The Edut in Hebrew, containing the Ten Commandments or more accurately the Ten Words, written with His own finger and etched through on both sides were no more. (Deuteronomy 9:10,16-18)
The Talmud teaches that the words flew off the tablets and when that happened, they became too heavy and Moses dropped them. This account teaches us about the sanctity of holiness for these tablets once etched with the finger of HaShem and imbued with His Spirit tragically lost that sense of holiness and simply became stony tablets when met with such a rampant show of idolatry. Could we make the analogy of these stony tablets to the stony hearts of the children of Israel and to some of us today that refuse to let our hearts become pliable to HaShem’s Word that He speaks to us through His Torah? But HaShem is a G-d of second chances…
TheThirteen Attributes and the Nature of HaShem
Moses pleads with HaShem for forgiveness on behalf of the people and HaShem agrees, tells him to hew two new tablets like the first ones and that He will inscribe them as He did the first. (Deuteronomy 9:26-10:5). Moses then goes back up the mountain…but something significant happens along the way. Remember Moses asks HaShem, “Let me behold your Presence!” (Exodus 33:18). HaShem graciously grants Moshe’s request, but hides him in the cleft of the rock and passes by so that only His back is visible. HaShem then proclaims His attributes to Moshe…known as the Thirteen Attributes…These Thirteen attributes are beautifully chanted in synagogues all over the world as the ark is opened and the Holy Torah is brought out and carried through the congregation
“Adonai, Adonai, mighty, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, abundant in love and truth, keeping troth to thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression…” (Exodus 34:6-7)
What is often missed is the background of the story (Exodus 33:17-34:5). Moshe is on his way up the mountain, with the two blank tablets he had hewed in hand. How would you picture he is carrying them…at his side? Maybe, but then again he could be holding them up against his chest, hugging them over his heart as he witnesses HaShem passing by from the cleft of the rock and hears Him proclaim His life-giving attributes… “Adonai, Adonai, mighty, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, abundant in love and truth, keeping troth to thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression…” How incredible is that! Perhaps this second set of tablets were then imbued with these attributes as the Ten Words, the Edut, were once again etched with the finger of HaShem to be placed in the simple wooden box…a box within a golden box inside the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies, the central place of the Tabernacle!
When we read these precious words we can attach ourselves to His Presence and to His attributes…just as did those who stood before Him at Mount Sinai. His words can be imbued in our hearts as well for HaShem reaches down through the generations and touches each heart that is seeking Him and asks that we become His witnesses!
The Eternal Question -Where is G-d?
The age old question comes up again, “Where is G-d? And the often quoted answer is, “G-d is only where you let him in.” This expression is from the Kotzker Rebbe, a well-known Polish Jewish sage of the 18th century. The story goes that at five years old he asked his father this question. His father answered, “G-d is everywhere,” but then qualified his answer by saying…”G-d is only where you let Him in.”
Our relationship with G-d is reciprocal. HaShem desires to have a relationship with each of us…He yearns for us to reach out to Him, but it is up to us to determine the depth and quality of the relationship for it depends on just how much we want Him in our lives. Yet no matter where we are or how far we may have fallen from that inspiring mountaintop experience, HaShem’s words ring clear…
“You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.”(Jeremiah 29:12).
We all make mistakes, we fall just as did our ancestors of old…we are all imperfect, we are broken people…we all have cracks, but as the late Leonard Cohen so beautifully sang in the poignant lyrics of his song ‘Anthem,’ …”there’s a crack in everything, there’s a crack in everything…that’s how the light gets in.”
Yes, there is a crack in everything, but I might add, that’s also how that same light radiates outward from heart to heart and into the world and back into one another. Yes we fail…we fall, we lose our focus; but we get up…we begin again and again and HaShem is gracious and longsuffering and is with us every step along the way if we remain humble, admit our failings, do t’shuvah, return to Him, return to the person we were created to be, and earnestly seek Him with all our heart. (Deuteronomy4:29)
After Sinai, Making the Torah a Part of Ourselves
Each day that we live, we have the opportunity to connect, to communicate to develop a G-d Consciousness, to “wrap our days in prayer. “ In Judaism there is a prayer, a blessing for everything. As we wake up in the morning we praise Him with the Modei Ani as we thank Him for His faithfulness and acknowledge His kingship and our devotion to Him. As we recite the Shema and the accompanying blessings we pledge to love Him with all our hearts, all our souls and all our everything…all our all, all our being…we reaffirm our loyalty to Him and acknowledge that we are His witnesses. As we open His Torah and read and pore over His life-giving words of wisdom, we are encouraged to let them flow and continue to take root in our hearts and live them out in our lives as we reach out to others.
Now this awesome festival when we stood beneath the mountain and heard the Voice of G-d s speaking from the midst of the fire has come and gone. None of us could exist with the ‘high’ experienced at Sinai on a daily basis…it was like a huge barrage of “sparks,” a gigantic lightning bolt coming down from heaven pulsating through all the people standing there.
But we can search for, gather and hold onto those “sparks” today and let them enrich our lives, for they representative of the totally awesome Nature of the Creator and can be found all around us… everywhere… in all of His Creation, in Torah, in us!
Taking Sinai With Us!
There is a lovely tradition that at the end of Sukkot, as we say goodbye to the sukkah that we bring it and the Divine Presence that it represents with us in our hearts. We can do the same with Shavuot for we can carry the Ten Words, The Testimony of HaShem our G-d and the awesome Sinai experience with us every day and let it permeate our minds, our hearts and the totality of our beings.
Yes, we can take that experience and listen to that Voice for it is still reverberating ‘round the world today to the four corners of the earth! Like a clarion call, it calls us back to the message from the “Heart of Sinai” and to HaShem and those amazing Ten Words that He gave us!
By Elisheva Tavor 15 Sivan 5780