EXPERIENCING MT. SINAI
The festival of Shavuot commemorates the highest level of kedushah (sanctity) that the Children of Israel acquired, which happened when Moses and the Jewish people received the Torah at Mt. Sinai.
The festival of Shavuot commemorates the highest level of kedushah (sanctity) that the Children of Israel acquired, which happened when Moses and the Jewish people received the Torah at Mt. Sinai. For thousands of years the Jewish people have been trying to match that level by learning and performing the mitzvot that they received at Mt. Sinai. The Torah says that everyday we should remember that the Jewish people stood at Mt. Sinai and received the Torah. If we are also commanded to learn Torah everyday, then wouldn't we also remember that the Torah we are learning was given by Hashem to the Jewish people at Mt. Sinai? Why must we be given a separate mitzvah to remember Mt. Sinai in addition to our daily obligation to study Torah?
One of the most tragic stories in the Torah is the deaths of Aaron's sons, Nadav and Avihu. The text states that they died because they performed a service in the Mishkan (Tabernacle) with an "alien fire" (Leviticus 10:1). What does it mean that they served with an "alien fire"? Some commentaries explain that though they performed the service for the sake of Hashem, they did not listen to Moses who was in charge of carrying out G-d's will. Nadav and Avihu had good intentions, but they were serving Hashem in the way they felt it should be performed, not the way that Hashem commanded us to perform while we were standing at Mt. Sinai.
We can study all the Torah that we want, but when we are carrying out Hashem's will, we must remember to carry it out the way that Hashem wants us to, not the way that we feel it should be done. One of the reasons why we read the Book of Ruth on Shavuot is because Ruth went out of her way to follow the covenant that Hashem made with the Jewish people at Mt. Sinai.
It is also very interesting that on the first day of Shavuot, the Torah reading is taken from Parshat Yitro. Yitro was a Midianite priest who worshipped every form of idolatry known to Man, thinking that he was doing the right thing. However, after hearing about the splitting of the Red Sea and the Jewish people's miraculous victory of Amalek, Yitro recognized that the Torah is the ultimate truth. Acting upon his belief, he joined Moses and the Jewish people in the desert, pursuing a life of Torah observance.
One of the reasons why many Jews are assimilating and intermarrying today is because even though we might mentally know that Hashem gave the Torah to the Jewish people, we refuse to feel as if we are standing at Mt. Sinai about to receive the Torah. It has been 3,300 years since Hashem gave us the Torah, and with every passing generation our level of kedushah dwindles. Torah is not merely an intellectual subject that one should read like any other classic novel. It is a way of life. We must remember that when Hashem gave the Torah, He gave it to all of us, because we are the Children of Israel of today. When we start to feel as if we were standing at Mt. Sinai, then we will feel compelled to raise the level of kedushah within us. When this acceptance occurs, we can expect another gift that will hopefully come on the sixth of Sivan: the Mashiach (Messiah).
David Schulman is a senior at Yeshiva High School of Atlanta.
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