A Taste of Torah in Honor of Shabbat
by Rabbi Avi Weiss
May 30, 1998. Sivan 5, 5758
Reflections on Shavuot
Is there any significance to the Jewish people camping round about the Tabernacle during
their wanderings in the desert? (Numbers 2:2)
An analysis of the similarities between Revelation at Sinai and the way the Jews
traveled through the desert yields a response.
When receiving the Torah the Jews encircled Sinai; in the desert the Jews encircled the
Tabernacle. At Sinai Jewish leadership ascended higher up the mountain than the larger
community to hear the voice of God; in the desert an inner circle comprised of leaders of
the Jewish nation camped around the Tabernacle encompassed in turn by a larger outer
circle made up of the tribes of Israel.
And, of course, the presence of God hovered over Sinai; in the Tabernacle, the
spirit of God was similarly omnipresent. (See Ramban in his introduction to the Book of
Could it be argued that when leaving Sinai the Jews felt disconnected from God?
Therefore, it was necessary to create a kind of continuous Sinai experience.
In the words of Benno Jacob, the Tabernacle was a mobile Sinai in the midst
of them [Jewish people].
As we simulated Sinai in the desert so we do the same in contemporary times when the Torah
is read in public. After all, the reader could be viewed as Moshe (Moses)
speaking the word of God, surrounded by two gabbaim (helpers), much like Moshe was
surrounded by helpers when the Torah was given at Sinai.
Indeed, for many the custom is to stand during the public reading of the Torah, like we
did at Sinai.
No wonder that this week's portion Bamidbar is always read on the Shabbat prior to
Shavuot. Shavuot is the day when we recant that moment when Israel was wed to God. What
better way to prepare for the reenactment of that great experience than to read how we as
a people encircled the Tabernacle like we did at Sinai--symbolic of a bride walking around
her groom, and a groom giving
a ring to his bride as both declare, "may we be betrothed to each other for
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