Insights and Inspiration
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
"Your friend in Karmiel"
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
"Your friend in Karmiel"
May 24th 2012 -Volume 2, Issue 29 -3rd of Sivan 5772
47th Day of Omer
Parshat Bamidbar/ Shavuot
A Day to Remember
Did we really stand at that mountain 3324 years ago? Did we actually witness Hashem come down on the Mountain, hear his voice, and see the thunder and lightning? Do I remember being there and calling out with the other 3 million Jewish souls Na'aseh Vi'Nishma- We will do and we will listen to all the laws of the Torah? Frankly, I barely remember my kids names half the time; forget about their birthdays.
(One of the nice things about having a Teudat Zehut- Israeli citizenship paper is that it has all my kids' birthdays on it, so I don't have to undergo those embarrassing pauses at government offices- as I quickly call my wife- when they ask me for them).
Yet our sages tell us that we were all there. The Torah gives us a commandment to remember the day that we stood at Sinai and according to Nachmonide/ the Ramban this is in itself one of the 613 commandments. Yet for some reason 3324 years seems like a long time for this aging brain of mine. Yesterday does as well.
There is a general rule in the Torah that "the commandments were not given to angels". All of the mitzvos are given for us, simple and forgetful type, human beings to observe. So how can there be a mitzvah to remember something from so long ago. Perhaps on an even deeper level why is it that we have to remember the whole Sinai "production" isn't it enough just to know the Torah and observe the commandments?
Why does the Torah command us to...
(Devarim 4:9-10) "Just observe for yourself and guard your soul exceedingly LEST YOU FORGET the things that your eyes saw and lest you remove from your hearts all the days of your life and you will make them known to your children and your grandchildren. The day on which you stood before the Lord, your God, in Chorev, when HaShem Said to me, 'Gather together for Me the people that I may Cause them to hear My Words, that will teach them to fear Me all of the days that they are living on the earth, and that they will teach their children"
The answer the Ramban suggests is that the significance of the mitzvah is so that one will teach their children. The entire "production" was there to give a message and an impact that one would "just have to" pass down. I may forget what happened yesterday. But what my father heard from his father from his father... that message, that scene was embedded in our national memory forever.
This week we begin the 4th book of the Torah, Bamibar-In the wilderness. It is the reading that always precedes Shavuot and there are many lessons that our sages and commentaries have forever found in it about the lessons of Sinai. Perhaps one of the most poignant, yet subtler lessons, is the extensive amount of space that is spent in the Parsha recalling our national counting as we began our journey. The Torah notes repeatedly how each Jew would be counted according to their families/ their father's home. The message being that as a Jew we count as much as we associate ourselves with the home of our fathers who stood at Sinai. We are not an independent, self-started, coming-to-it-of-our-own, religion. Rather we are bearers of our family heritage, the stories that we heard and the events that we witnessed. To be counted is to connect oneself to the events of that national moment that has been passed down in full detail to us.
Another message our sages note in a Medrash in the beginning of the Parsha when it discusses the genealogy of the Jewish people is that it was in the merit of their genealogy that we received the Torah. The Meishiv Nefesh explains this medrash with another fascinating Medrash
"When Yisrael stood at Har Sinai, Hashem asked them, "Who will guarantee your observance of Torah?" Bnei Yisrael answered, "Our forefathers," but Hashem responded that those were not adequate guarantors. "Our children," Bnei Yisrael then said, and Hashem responded, "Your children are certainly good guarantors." This, the midrash concludes, is the meaning of the verse (Tehilim 8:3), "Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings you have established strength." And, this, writes the Meishiv Nefesh, is the meaning of the midrash that the Torah was given because of
our genealogy, i.e., our children.
The Ramban suggests as well that the key to us fulfilling the mitzvah of remembering Sinai is passing that tradition, our story that we heard from our fathers and that resides in our collective memory to the next generation.
"And you will make them known to your children and your grandchildren"
I recall a lecture I once heard from Rabbi Berel Wein who once made an incredible calculation. He suggested that each individual can relate first hand testimony for about 130 years. Meaning that I knew my grandfather who was born in the early 1900's and he knew and heard from his grandfather who lived in the late 1800's. So my personal record goes back about 130 years. If we make that calculation over the 3324 years from Sinai we would only require a chain of about 25 people to pass down the story of that great event. 25 people charged with the memory and legacy of their grandparents who take seriously the mandate to make sure that their grandchildren knew the most important message and revelation of mankind that they were at. It's not so many people. It's not too hard to remember.
We live in a world where, thank God, with the blessing of modern medicine people are living longer. By my son's Bris 14 years ago he had 7 out of his eight great- grandparents alive and sharing in the Simcha. Today, they should live and be well until 120, they have the blessing of of having 4 of their great grandparents still active and passing down those important messages and values. Sinai lives and will always live our memory despite how much so many of us might forget from time to time, despite the challenges of assimilation and persecution we've faced throughout the centuries. It lives because the deepest instinct imparted to us as a nation at the momentous occasion was this message. Remember this day, Remember this moment when we saw and witnessed Hashem a.nd his glory. And never forget to remind your children of their precious heritage and memory as well. Personal birthdays may be forgotten, but our national birthday as the eternal nation will be celebrated each year as we approach and enjoy in the special birthday party of Shavuot.
Have an incredibly amazing Shabbos and a Chag Shavuot Samayach,
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
P.S. Happy 1st Bar Mitzvah anniversary to my 14 year old Yonah!! We are so proud of you!!(and me for remembering :))
RABBI SCHWARTZ FAVORITE QUOTE OF THE WEEK
"Instead of spending a fortune on this trip to climb Mount Sinai and reciting the 10 Commandments on the mountain's peak, I have a better idea. Save your money, stay home and keep the Commandments in Boston."-Mark Twain to the Boston Globe on a proposed expedition to the Holyland with a Sinai finale"
RABBI SCHWARTZ COOL PLACES IN ISRAEL OF THE WEEK-
JEZRE'EL VALLEY/ "THE EMEK"-THE TRUTH IS THIS LARGEST VALLEY IN ISRAEL BETWEEN THE LOWER GALILE AND THE HILLS OF MENASHE HAS TONS OF COOL PLACES. MANY BIBLICAL STORIES TOOK PLACE IN THIS VALLEY FROM SAUL, GIDEON, DEVORA, ALIYAHU AND ACHAV. YET WHEN ONE IN ISRAEL REFERS TO THE EMEK THEY REFER TO THE HOTBED OF MANY NEW IDEAS AND SOCIETIES THAT WERE DEVELOPED AND TRIED IN THIS VALLEY THAT WAS FULL OF SWAMPS, SICKNESS AND DETERMINED ZIONIST IDEALOGUES WHO WERE COMING TO BUILD A DIFFERENT FUTURE FOR THEMSELVES.
CO-OPERATIVE LIVING IN MERCHAVIA, KIBBUTZ LIFE IN EIN HAROD, MOSHAV IN NAHALAL WERE ALL ATTEMPTS IN THE 1920'S TO CREATE A SOCIETY THAT WOULD BALANCE A COMMUNAL LIVING AND RESPONSIBILITY THAT WOULD CHANGE THE WORLD. THE ONE THING THAT THEY ALL HAVE IN COMMON IS THAT THEY WERE ALL STARTED AS SECULAR NEW-WORLD VIEWS AND SOLUTIONS AND THEY HAVE ALL CHANGED AND EVEN HAVE ESTABLISHED SYNAGOGUES AND MIKVAOT.
THE JEW IS BUILT TO CHANGE THE WORLD THE EMEK IS A SYMBOL OF THE INCREDIBLE FLOURISHING THAT WE CAN BRING TO A DESOLATE SWAMP AS THE MOUNTAINS FLOURISH WITH WHEAT, TREES AND FLOWERS. MAY WE BE THAT TRUE SPIRITUAL LIGHT AS WELL