Although none of us living today were physically present to witness this historic phenomenon, we are asked to accept this occurrence as a historic fact or to believe that it occurred. What exactly happened at Sinai and how God was able to “speak” to mankind is something we will never quite understand.
If the events at Mount Sinai were all we had to hold on to, it might not be enough to motivate us to be loyal to His Torah. And if the events at Mount Sinai were the most significant occurrence in our Jewish lives, how come the Torah itself does not mention Shavuot as the day that we celebrate the giving of the law on Mount Sinai? And if the revelation on Mount Sinai was such conclusive evidence of God’s existence and the divine origin of His Law, how was it that the people of Israel succumbed to worshiping the golden calf a few weeks later?
In fact, in this world, there can be no face-to-face meeting between man and God. There can be no experience so unequivocal and obvious as to conclusively prove the existence of God or the divine origin of His Torah beyond doubt. Even Moshe, the transmitter of God’s word was not able to see God’s face. God would appear to Moshe wrapped in a cloud defying the human being’s desire to verify His existence beyond doubt. If it were all that clear, there would be no challenge and no purpose to our spiritual lives. We would all be angels constitutionally unable to do anything other than God’s will. But we are higher than angels because we always have the choice to do what suits us even if it angers God . Ultimately, we even have the choice to justify our actions by taking advantage of God’s invisibility and by denying His existence.
If this is so, what do we celebrate on Shavuot?
We celebrate the “giving” of the Torah, not that the Torah was given. The Torah is given to us and is there for the taking every day. While we may not be able to absorb the whole Torah directly from the mouth of God in one ceremony, we can receive it piecemeal, word by word. Just as each drop of a hospital infusion can revive the body, so too can our souls be revived by each word of the Torah we absorb. Call it “Trickle Down Revelation.” And the body too is not left out. Each of our limbs has its own choreography in the service of God through the practice of the Mitzvot.
The words Na’aseh Venishmah, “we will first perform the Torah and then understand why,” are the passwords, not only of our ancestors at Sinai, but they are also our passwords to spiritual life. For it is catch 22 to insist on proving the existence of God and the divine origin of his Torah as a precondition to savoring His words and performing His Mitzvot. The meeting between man and God is not a meeting of the minds. It is a meeting of the souls. We barely understand the workings of our minds, let alone our souls. In the Torah we have are given an instruction manual how to communicate with God and how to experience our own personal Revelation. That is what we celebrate on Shavuot and what we celebrate each day.
And for those skeptics among us who need to feel the steps of logic beneath our feet as we ascend Jacob’s ladder, consider this. Let’s just admit the possibility that God exists and that the Torah is His Book. Then, the events around us will drive the possibility to a high probability.
It is entirely reasonable to assume that the Being that created the world deemed it necessary to inform its inhabitants how to live in it. The laws of the Torah stand out in their ethical definition from the laws of other religions of the time. “Between Judaism and the coarsely polytheistic religions of Babylon and the old Egyptian faith there lies an impassable gulf. I can only find one explanation, unfashionable and antiquated though it be,” writes the religious historian Mueller. “It marks the dividing line between Revelation and unrevealed religion.” The Torah is replete with laws that are so counterintuitive to the Jewish and indeed the human psyche, that no human being would have had any interest in inventing them. Take for example, the laws of Shabbat, Shemitah and Yovel. Who in their right minds would volunteer to risk their livelihood by refusing to work on Shabbat, by waiving all debts at Shemitah and by returning all real estate at Yovel? In New York in 2004, one has to be either demented or divinely ordered not to pick up the telephone on Shabbat for an important business call.
Many predictions of the Bible have been fulfilled. The destruction of Judea by the Romans and the dispersion of the Jewish people throughout the Diaspora are foretold in horrifying detail in Deuteronomy. Archeological discoveries are continuing to establish the astonishing accuracy of many details of the Bible.
One Shavuot, I dared asked my father, a renowned author of Halachic works and a venerable Dayan (Judge) of the London Beth Din. “Dad, if you arrive up there, after 120 years, and you find out it was all one big hoax, what will you do?” Dad looked at me and said, “Son, if that happens, I shall kick up such a storm that you will hear it all the way down here.” It’s been thirty years now since Dad has gone and all is quiet.
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