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Shabbat Sermon: Dvar Torah for Shavuot

by Rabbi Dorit Edut

We live in technologically wondrous times - We are able to reach by phone in an instant a friend who lives on the other side of the globe; we can peer via space-age devices like the Hubble Telescope into galaxies that are light years away; we can  repair tiny parts in our bodies with laser beams or grow new tissues from stem cells that have been implanted in us surgically. So how can we imagine today that there was this momentous, life-changing event at Mt. Sinai, about four thousand years ago, when the Torah and 10 Commandments was first given to humanity by God?  And yet, how can we not imagine it? It is described so vividly in the portion from Exodus which we read n the first day of Shavuot:

 “On the third day, as morning dawned, there was thunder, and lightning, and a dense cloud upon the mountain, and a very loud blast of the horn; and all the people who were in the camp trembled. Moses led the people out of the camp toward God, and they took their places at the foot of the mountain.

Now Mount Sinai was all in smoke, for the Lord had come down upon it in fire; the smoke rose like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled violently.  The blare of the horn grew louder and louder.  As Moses spoke, God answered him in thunder. The Lord came down upon Mt. Sinai, on the tope of the mountain, and the Lord called Moses to the top of the mountain and Moses went up.”

To us, this may seem like the description of a volcanic eruption and anyone who has witnessed such an event – or perhaps seen this at one of those 360-degree screen special theaters as I have – knows what feelings of terror and awe probably overwhelmed those of our ancestors who were present.  Yet this was much more than a physical event – it was the greatest spiritual experience, the explosive union of the Divine force of God and the human souls of our ancestors. It has been described kabbalistically as the wedding of the Jewish people with  Adonai, with the Torah serving as a Ketubah – an eternal document of this occasion. Moreover, it was not just for our ancestors to experience- for the Torah clearly states in Deuteronomy 29:13 that “It is not with you alone that I make this Covenant with its sanctions, but also with hose who are stading here with us this day before the Lord our God and with those who are not with us here today.” The Rabbis have understood this to mean that  this line refers to all the souls that are yet to be created; in other words, ALL THE FUTURE GENERATIONS OF THE JEWISH PEOPLE – INCLUDING ALL OF US AND ALL OF THE GENERATIONS YET TO COME INTO THIS WORLD!  This day, Shavuot, like Passover, is to be recalled anew by each generation, in every year of our lives, so we will recognize that there is an eternal quality to our lives as individuals and as a people – especially when we realize that we are intimately linked to the Creator, the Holy One, who gave us the Divine Guide to life – the Torah.

It is through our study and practice of what the Torah tells us that we can get through any of the crises we may face in life for its truths are eternal, as God, the Author of Torah, is eternal.  Is it not true that we would not be facing some of the major problems we have today if all human beings would  observe the commandments that state: DO NOT STEAL, DO NOT MURDER, DO NOT  COVET YOUR NEIGHBOR’S HOUSE! What would life be like for immigrants in our country, for example,  if we remembered that is says : “ DO NOT WRONG THE ALIEN OR OPPRESS HIM !” Would we have the problems of global warming, air and water pollution,  the near- extinction of so many animal species, the depletion of  minerals and the erosion of soil in so many parts of the world  if we had only read the words of Genesis 1:28-29, when God said to the first human beings:

 “Be fruitful and increase, fill the earth and master it; and rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and all the living things that creep the earth.  God said: See,  I give you every seedbearing plant that is upon all the earth, and every tree that has seed-bearing fruit; they shall be yours for food. And to all the animals on land, to all the birds of the sky and to everything that creeps on earth  in which there is the breath of life, I give all the plants for food. “

These are only a few examples of what our Torah still has to offer us today – and these are the words which are clearly understood without interpretation. Other parts of the Torah do need to be carefully studied and re-examined with the help of the commentaries written in our Talmud and Responsa, which record the thinking of our Sages throughout the centuries.  The Torah speaks to us across the centuries and continues to be relevant to us today.  Through our celebration of this Divine giving of the Torah to the Jewish people and via us to humanity, we recreate the excitement and amazement that was first experienced – and renew for ourselves our alignment with this Divine Guide to Life.  Let us show through our words and deeds our deep and abiding appreciation for this greatest gift which has come down to us over the last four millennia, and which we, as its guardians of the 21rst century, will pass on proudly to our children and grandchildren. Keyn Y’hi Ratzon – May It Be Your Will, O' God ! Shabbat Shalom V’Chag Sameach!