THINGS ARE LOOKING UP
Rabbi Shmuel Weiss
It is only fitting that the festival of Shavuot celebrating the giving and receiving of the Torah occurs in proximity to Parshat Bamidbar.
It is only fitting that the festival of Shavuot celebrating the giving and receiving of the Torah occurs in proximity to Parshat Bamidbar. In order to truly integrate and accept the Torah, one must become like a "midbar a desert," and free himself of pre-conceived notions, of foreign philosophies, of various, alien "-isms," and fill himself with the glory of the Torah and its all-encompassing wisdom.
The root of the Hebrew word "midbar," is "diber speak," and connects to the Aseret HaDibrot, the 10 Pronouncements. Even in the most barren wilderness, seemingly devoid of life, Hashem can speak to us through the Torah, and lead us through life, if we but listen to His voice. When the Children of Israel were about to receive the Torah, the verse states, "they stood beneath the mountain" (Exodus 19:17). Rashi, the preeminent Torah commentator, quoting the Midrash explains that Mt. Sinai was detached from the earth, and Hashem suspended it over them like a barrel. "Choose the Torah and live," He said, "but reject it and the mountain comes crashing down upon your heads."
This Midrash is difficult to comprehend. Is this the way to express love for the Children of Israel, by threatening us with destruction? Hadn't we already proclaimed days earlier, "na'aseh v'nishma we will do and we will listen," (ibid. 24:7) in agreeing to perform all the mitzvot of the Torah? So why threaten us now?
There are two approaches to this question. On the one hand, Shavuot represents the culmination of our spiritual love affair with G-d. We became "engaged" on Passover, when we demonstrated our loyalty and devotion to Hashem by following Him and leaving Egypt. (You might say we were "going out" at that stage!) The 49 days following Passover were our courtship, and Shavuot, our marriage. We encircled Mt. Sinai like a bride around the groom, and the Torah was our ketubah (marital contract). In this vein, the mountain hanging over our heads represented our chupah (wedding canopy).
In another sense, there is a kind of threat that hangs over us. Hashem was telling us the reality of history: If we keep the Torah, then we can live eternally, forever, surviving everything history throws at us, even as other civilizations crumble and wither away. However, if we reject the Torah, then we have no chance to be immortal, we are doomed to ultimate destruction, and so we may as well end it now, before we go through all the trials and tribulations of history.
Thus it has been and will always be. Those Jews who thought they could survive by following philosophies other than the Torah, have vanished into the black hole of history. Those who clung to G-d's Torah, despite all the hardships and challenges, live on forever. When we keep the Torah, the Torah will keep us!
Rabbi Shmuel Weiss, the director of the Jewish Outreach Center in Raanana, Israel, is a close friend of the Torah from Dixie family.
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