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Shavuot

05/25/2023 08:37:48 AM

May25

Dear Congregants and friends,

When in Ottawa, I gave a series of classes at the St Paul’s University Theological department.  The course gravitated towards the impact of Judaism in everyday life. This is part of a section on Shavuot.

The festival of Shavuot commemorates Matan Torah, G-d's giving of the Torah to the world. Since, as the Gemara (an essential component of the Talmud, comprising a collection of rabbinical analyses and commentaries on the Mishnah and presented in 63 books) informs us, "Our forefathers in Egypt never ceased studying Torah," the Jewish people evidently possessed Torah before it was formally given on Sinai. What, then, makes Matan Torah so unique?

The accomplishment of Matan Torah lies in the fact that "G-d gave us His Torah." Prior to Matan Torah, Torah was merely "taken" by man according to his inherently limited intellectual capacity. When G-d gave the Torah, however, He gave it to us utterly and completely, in accordance with His infinite capacity.

Moreover, this was not simply a one-time event. Rather, at the time of Matan Torah G-d wholly "incorporated" Himself within the Torah. Thus, we find that regarding Torah G-d says: "I have written and placed [within Torah] My very 'Soul' and Essence"; whenever a person studies Torah, G-d says: "You are actually clutching Me."

This, then, was the novel aspect of G-d's revealing Himself in Torah: Matan Torah achieved something so new and distinct, that Torah as it existed prior to Matan Torah bore absolutely no comparison to Torah as given at Matan Torah:

As stated above, prior to Matan Torah, Torah study was limited to man's restricted intellect and capacities. Understandably, man's achievement in Torah was limited to what a finite being is capable of grasping of an infinite Being and infinite wisdom.

However, with the Giving of the Torah, Torah study brings a student not only to the comprehension of Torah - which given the limitations of the human mind, must necessarily be limited - but to an infinite unity with the Giver of Torah Himself.

While differences existed between Jews in their degree of comprehension of Torah as it existed prior to Matan Torah, these differences - regarding Torah's essence - did not apply to Jews as they studied Torah as it existed after Matan Torah; the aspect of being able to fully grasp G-d is the same among all Jews who study Torah, whether it be the greatest scholar or the simplest Jew.

Matan Torah thus brought about not only an extraordinary degree of unity between the Jewish people and G-d, but also among the Jewish people themselves - they were all equal in their ability to "clutch" G-d.

This quality of Matan Torah was so potent that when the nation encamped opposite Mt. Sinai, even before the Torah was given, they did so "as one man with one heart."

For the fact that G-d was about to give the Torah to the Jewish people revealed within them the quintessential aspect of their Jewishness, something that resides in all Jewish hearts equally: a faith in G-d that transcends logic; a power that enables all Jews - through Torah - to equally grasp G-d's essence.

Torah is ultimately to be studied and learned with one's intellect. The purpose of Matan Torah is not only that G-d's Essence be revealed in Torah, but that the student so thoroughly unites himself with Torah that Torah becomes his very reason for existence.

When one understands something with one's own intellect, that concept becomes so thoroughly grasped that it becomes part and parcel of one's spiritual being, to the same degree that food becomes transformed into part of one's physical being.

This is the ultimate intent of Matan Torah: To allow man to grasp G-d Himself - a relationship that wholly transcends intellect - yet to concurrently possess the ability to assimilate the Torah's lessons and have them permeate the human intellect so that the individual becomes one with the Torah.

Mon, June 24 2024 18 Sivan 5784