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D'var Torah: Revelation has meaning beyond words
May 1st, 2012
Green Bay — The title refers to God’s revelation to the Jewish people on Mt. Sinai — the essence of the holiday Shavuot, which this year is May 27-28. However, we have a problem with this: How are we supposed to understand Revelation?
Unfortunately, movie director Cecil B. DeMille and actor Charleton Heston implanted a hollow picture of this into our brains. In the 1956 movie, “The Ten Commandments,” we hear the booming voices of both God and Moses/Heston.
It’s not the movie’s fault that so many of us settle for a movie version of the deepest mystery of all religion. Media cannot portray Revelation; this concept defies any possible description. Even the prophets could not fully describe their deepest innermost experiences.
Words alone cannot adequately contain the real depth of any experience. Words help. They are important. Words have great weight in Torah. Hashem used words to create the world.
However, we must search for the meaning beyond the words.
Think about a conversation with your friend. Of course, you listen to each other words. You also listen for voice tone; you watch gestures and body language.
The better you know the person, the more you pay attention to underlying issues that might alter her mood. In other words, a real conversation contains the sum of mutual interaction.
You can also have a conversation without words, when we sit quietly with someone and give ourselves space to reach full understanding. We can reach our deepest insights in the spaces between the words, in moments of quiet that are built from yearning for the other.
Thus we come to Divine Revelation. There are words, and there are the flashes of insight that defy words.
Did the Holy One Blessed is He really boom full words from Mt. Sinai? Or were the people so united in spirit and yearning for His Presence that they understood the fullness of His message?
Just as the sages teach that Hashem created the world from ten utterances, they teach that at Mt. Sinai, Hashem revealed Himself to us with ten statements. In doing so, He created the Jewish people — another stage in the Creation of the world.
Look at Creation and how much burst forth out of each word. The Torah is not giving us a scientific text on Creation but something much deeper.
The words leading to Creation are all Revelations of larger, deeper ideas. Words are garments that lead to trees, grass, beauty, goodness, evil — everything in existence.
Do you read fiction? That’s another example of using words to create a world. When you read or write a novel, you absorb yourself into an entirely different world. A good writer uses words as instruments of creation.
Now, let’s return to the words the Holy One spoke at Mt. Sinai. According to tradition, He gave us the entire Torah by speaking ten words.
The Revelation was not about voice or words. Not only did Hashem reveal Himself to us — at the level we could understand — we opened our souls to Him.
Our understanding went far beyond anything we could adequately describe. Torah used words to describe and indescribable concept.
The words of Revelation contain ultimate holiness. How fortunate that we, as a people, could have such an experience.
And how fortunate are we, that every year, we can re-create that experience on Shavuot, the anniversary of God’s “words” — His Revelation — at Mt. Sinai.
More importantly, revelation does not end with the experience of Mt. Sinai. We can listen for God’s “voice.” We can encounter the Holy One.
How? We do this through learning, through talking to others or to Him, and in our quiet moments. Sometimes we encounter God in our moments of deepest grief, sometimes in our greatest joys.
At the foot of Mt. Sinai, we spent three days preparing ourselves for the Revelation. Thus we came together as a group. However, Revelation also comes to us as individuals.
The Holy One Blessed be He wants to reach us. He wants this at every single moment of our lives.
We only have to open our hearts and souls — and listen. Not for the booming voice, but for the quiet flash of insight.
Hashem loves us. Our job: love Him back.
To help in this quest, we can take advantage of the time leading up to Shavuot. We can focus on every day with renewed heart. In doing so, we will be ready to hear His voice as we re-enact the Revelation on Shavuot.
Rabbi Shaina Bacharach is spiritual leader of Congregation Cnesses Israel in Green Bay.