Rabbi Milevsky's Thought of the Week: Shavuot - 5774
THE JEWISH RESPONSIBILITY
The Jewish Enlightenment is a term which is often used to describe the movement among European Jews in the late 18th century that advocated adopting enlightened values, pressing for better integration into European society, and increasing secular education. However the true Jewish Enlightenment occurred many years earlier as an assembly of former slaves stood at Mount Sinai. The revelation at Sinai was a moment of comprehensive Jewish illumination, and all who were present merited clarity concerning their mission in life. This supernatural and historical occurrence is known as Matan Torah- the Receiving of the Torah.
The rabbis in the Talmud note that the Children of Israel chose to make a covenant with the Almighty. Yet the decision to accept the Torah was in fact a choice made under duress. The mountain was suspended on top of the nation and an offer - that they could not refuse - was made; accept the Torah, or else I- the Almighty – will release that which is on top of you and, without the funeral home and the limo, you will be buried. The nation did indeed accept the offer. However, this incident is quite disturbing. Why did the Jews “merit” such a violent beginning? Personally, I would prefer a calm and serene atmosphere, in which I could truly absorb the wonderful experience of revelation.
A few years following this event, on the bank of the river Neranjara, a fellow by the name Gautama was meditating under a tree, and suddenly experienced a very high degree of consciousness, and reached his own personal Enlightenment. (If you want to know more about him, do a Google search.) My question is: why couldn’t the Jewish nation merit its Enlightenment under a similar magnificent tree? Why this aggressive beginning for a people who are in existence to teach and preach peace?
The key to understanding the mission of the Jew, and to appreciating the Creator’s choice for the first impression, is responsibility. The revelation at Sinai was not for personal and individual fulfillment. Rather, it was to give the most important task in the history of humanity to a chosen group.
An educator in many ways is like a pilot. The wrong word uttered by a teacher to a vulnerable student can have calamitous results. The Nation of Israel was given the greatest mission of all time; the spiritual welfare of humanity. The goal of the suspended mountain was to create a long-lasting impact on the Jewish soul, that of tremendous responsibility.
Yet we relive this experience on Shavuot by celebrating, because for the soul, responsibility is the greatest privilege. The Secret Service works long hours in challenging conditions, yet they take great pride in their significant mission. So too, we celebrate Matan Torah by reminding ourselves that our duty is sacred and is a necessity for the world.
May we all merit celebrating all the holidays in Jerusalem, where we will once again achieve clarity in our mission.