Rabbi Milevsky's Thought of the Week: Bamidbar-Shavuot - 5772

THE NATURE OF SHAVUOT

In the second chapter of Parashat Shemot, the Torah tells us the story of Pharaoh's daughter finding Moshe.  In verse five it says, "She sent her maid and fetched the box."  The Talmud relates that the word "Amatah" – literally ‘her maid’– also means ‘her hand’.  It continues to explain that a miracle took place, and her hand extended beyond its natural capacity and reached the box.  When we learn such a statement in the Oral Tradition, there must be a deeper meaning. 

    I would like to share with you an approach to this statement.  The day of Shavuot, when we celebrate the receiving of the Torah, is a bit difficult to understand.  After all, the Torah and its 613 commandments were completed only after the forty years in the desert.  If so, what exactly did the Children of Israel receive on that day at Sinai?  Maimonides, in the eighth chapter of Yesodei Hatorah, writes that the reason we follow every word of Moshe and we believe that all he said is truly the word of Hashem, is not because of miracles he performed but rather due to the revelation at Sinai.  When Hashem tells Moshe (Shemot 19:9), "And they will also believe in you forever," he is telling Moshe that the Jewish nation, by standing at Sinai, will reach a spiritual level through which it will become clear to them that everything they hear from Moshe from now on is the true will of Hashem.  With these words of Maimonides we have a better understanding of what is taking place at Mount Sinai.  The Revelation is not to transmit the complete book of Hashem with all its guidelines and laws of how to live as a Jew.  Rather it is to make it clear to the children of Israel that from then on every word they hear from Moshe is the word of Hashem, and must be followed in precisely the same manner they would follow a commandment coming out of the mouth of Hashem.

    All of this became clear to the nation as they were standing at Mount Sinai and this comprehension is what we commemorate on the day of Shavuot.  So in essence the day of Shavuot is the day when the nation extended beyond its physical boundaries and turned into prophets, to become witnesses to Moshe's role as the conveyor of Hashem's will.  This is because, even though they always considered Moshe a prophet, on that day it became clear to them that their leader was much more than a regular prophet whose words have no guarantee to always reflect the will of G-d (due to the free will of the prophet), but a prophet with a guarantee from Hashem, that the Shechina (Divine voice) will be speaking from his throat, now and forever. 

    The name of Pharaoh's daughter was Batya - the daughter of god.  In Egypt, the god was referring to Pharaoh, because Pharaoh had converted to Judaism, but she still kept her name.  After conversion, the reference to G-d in her name was to the true One.  In a sense Batya represents the Jewish nation:  In Egypt, they were affected by the pagan culture surrounding them, which believed in Pharaoh as a god and accepted this philosophy.  With redemption, came the acceptance of the true G-d. 

    According to tradition, Moshe was born on the seventh of Adar.  Three months later, when Batya discovered him, the date was the sixth of Sivan, the same day that - eighty years later - the Jewish people will be standing at Mount Sinai.  Batya, who represents the nation of Israel- by the fact of her being part of the pagan culture and afterwards finding Hashem - extended her hand in a supernatural way on the sixth day of the month of Sivan to find Moshe, much the same, eighty years later on the same day, the Jewish people will extend spiritually and exceed their limited human capacity at Mount Sinai to see who Moshe was.

    With this we may gain some insight into the message of the extension of the hand. 

Shabbat Shalom.  Chag Sameach!