Shavuot: Layers of Revelation

Tales of Hasidim- Martin Buber

The rabbi of Kotzk was asked: “Why is Shavuot called ‘the time the Torah was given’ rather than the time we received the Torah?” He answered: “The giving took place on one day, but the receiving takes

place at all times.”

(טו) וְכָל־הָעָם֩ רֹאִ֨ים אֶת־הַקּוֹלֹ֜ת וְאֶת־הַלַּפִּידִ֗ם וְאֵת֙ ק֣וֹל הַשֹּׁפָ֔ר וְאֶת־הָהָ֖ר עָשֵׁ֑ן וַיַּ֤רְא הָעָם֙ וַיָּנֻ֔עוּ וַיַּֽעַמְד֖וּ מֵֽרָחֹֽק׃
(15) All the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the blare of the horn and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they fell back and stood at a distance.

... וְאוֹמֵר (שמות כ, טו): וְכָל הָעָם רֹאִים אֶת הַקּוֹלֹת. הַקּוֹל אֵין כְּתִיב כָּאן אֶלָּא הַקּוֹלֹת, אָמַר רַבִּי יוֹחָנָן הָיָה הַקּוֹל יוֹצֵא וְנֶחְלַק לְשִׁבְעִים קוֹלוֹת לְשִׁבְעִים לָשׁוֹן, כְּדֵי שֶׁיִּשְׁמְעוּ כָּל הָאֻמּוֹת, וְכָל אֻמָּה וְאֻמָּה שׁוֹמַעַת קוֹל בִּלְשׁוֹן הָאֻמָּה ... בּוֹא וּרְאֵה הֵיאַךְ הַקּוֹל יוֹצֵא, אֵצֶל כָּל יִשְׂרָאֵל כָּל אֶחָד וְאֶחָד לְפִי כֹּחוֹ, הַזְּקֵנִים לְפִי כֹּחָן, הַבַּחוּרִים לְפִי כֹּחָן, וְהַקְּטַנִּים לְפִי כֹּחָן, וְהַיּוֹנְקִים לְפִי כֹּחָן, וְהַנָּשִׁים לְפִי כֹּחָן, וְאַף משֶׁה לְפִי כֹּחוֹ, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (שמות יט, יט): משֶׁה יְדַבֵּר וְהָאֱלֹהִים יַעֲנֶנּוּ בְקוֹל, בְּקוֹל שֶׁהָיָה יָכוֹל לְסוֹבְלוֹ. וְכֵן הוּא אוֹמֵר (תהלים כט, ד): קוֹל ה' בַּכֹּחַ, בְּכֹחוֹ לֹא נֶאֱמַר אֶלָּא בַּכֹּחַ, בְּכֹחוֹ שֶׁל כָּל אֶחָד וְאֶחָד, וְאַף נָשִׁים מְעֻבָּרוֹת לְפִי כֹּחָן, הֱוֵי אוֹמֵר כָּל אֶחָד וְאֶחָד לְפִי כֹּחוֹ.

"And all the people perceived the thunderings" (Exod. 20:15). Since there was only one voice, why "thunderings" in the plural? Rabbi Yochanan said: Because God's voice divided into seventy voices, into seventy languages, so that all the nations might hear it...... Come and see how the voice went forth to all of Israel, to each and every one in keeping with his particular capacity--to the elderly in keeping with their capacity, to young men in keeping with their capacity, to the little ones in keeping with their capacity, to the suckling babes in keeping with their capacity, and to the women in keeping with their capacity, and even to Moses according to his capacity, as it is written, "Moses spoke and God answered him with a voice," (Ex. 19:19) - with a voice that he could stand. Thus it says in psalms (Ps. 29:4) "The voice of God in strength," -- "In its strength" is not written, rather, "in strength," in the strength of each and every one, even pregnant women according to their strength, it would speak to each and every one according to his or her strength...

...

(א) וַיִּקְרָ֣א מֹשֶׁה֮ אֶל־כָּל־יִשְׂרָאֵל֒ וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֲלֵהֶ֗ם שְׁמַ֤ע יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ אֶת־הַחֻקִּ֣ים וְאֶת־הַמִּשְׁפָּטִ֔ים אֲשֶׁ֧ר אָנֹכִ֛י דֹּבֵ֥ר בְּאָזְנֵיכֶ֖ם הַיּ֑וֹם וּלְמַדְתֶּ֣ם אֹתָ֔ם וּשְׁמַרְתֶּ֖ם לַעֲשֹׂתָֽם׃ (ב) יְהוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֵ֗ינוּ כָּרַ֥ת עִמָּ֛נוּ בְּרִ֖ית בְּחֹרֵֽב׃ (ג) לֹ֣א אֶת־אֲבֹתֵ֔ינוּ כָּרַ֥ת יְהוָ֖ה אֶת־הַבְּרִ֣ית הַזֹּ֑את כִּ֣י אִתָּ֗נוּ אֲנַ֨חְנוּ אֵ֥לֶּה פֹ֛ה הַיּ֖וֹם כֻּלָּ֥נוּ חַיִּֽים׃ (ד) פָּנִ֣ים ׀ בְּפָנִ֗ים דִּבֶּ֨ר יְהוָ֧ה עִמָּכֶ֛ם בָּהָ֖ר מִתּ֥וֹךְ הָאֵֽשׁ׃ (ה) אָ֠נֹכִי עֹמֵ֨ד בֵּין־יְהוָ֤ה וּבֵֽינֵיכֶם֙ בָּעֵ֣ת הַהִ֔וא לְהַגִּ֥יד לָכֶ֖ם אֶת־דְּבַ֣ר יְהוָ֑ה כִּ֤י יְרֵאתֶם֙ מִפְּנֵ֣י הָאֵ֔שׁ וְלֹֽא־עֲלִיתֶ֥ם בָּהָ֖ר לֵאמֹֽר׃ (ס)

(1) Moses summoned all the Israelites and said to them: Hear, O Israel, the laws and rules that I proclaim to you this day! Study them and observe them faithfully! (2) Adonai Eloheinu made a covenant with us at Horeb. (3) It was not with our fathers that Adonai made this covenant, but with us, the living, every one of us who is here today. (4) Face to face Adonai spoke to you on the mountain out of the fire— (5) I stood between Adonai and you at that time to convey Adonai’s words to you, for you were afraid of the fire and did not go up the mountain—saying:

Martin Buber, The Man of Today and the Jewish Bible, 1936.

Creation is the origin, redemption the goal. But revelation is not a fixed, dated point poised between the two. The revelation at Sinai is not this midpoint itself, but the perceiving of it, and such perception is possible at any time.

Jewish Study Bible on Deuteronomy 5:1-5

The aim is to overcome the limits of historical time and place through participation in the covenant, which makes revelation “present.”

(א) לא את אבותינו כרת את הברית וגומ'...ולזה ראוי שיחשוב כל דור ודור כאלו לו נתנה התורה:

Every generation must think that the Torah was given directly to them.

R. Kalonymus Kalmish Shapira, Aish Kodesh, Ki Thetze, September 14, 1940

Translated by R. James Jacobson-Maisels

In his commentary on the verse beginning the Book of Leviticus (1:1), "[God] called Moses and God spoke to him..." Rashi, quoting the Midrash, says: "The redundant use of the phrase "to him" implies that the Voice went and reached Moses' ears only, but no one else could hear it." Our teacher Moses was special in that he could also hear the voice that was speaking only to him, individually and privately. Although God teaches Torah to the entire Jewish people, this is not a teaching that is personal and individual to every person. Rather, God teaches Torah to God's people in general, to all Jews as one. So, it is up to each and every Jew to work to achieve that level where God speaks to them individually, as we said above.

From "Shavuot and the Sacred Process of Becoming" by Adina Allen.

It is taught in the Talmud that at the moment of revelation we received all the teachings that will ever be (Megillah 19b). According to the Mishnah, we received the entirety of the Torah, but nothing more (Pirkei Avot 1:1). Others postulate that we heard even less. According to R. Yehoshua ben Levi, we were able to hear only the first two of the Ten Commandments (Shir HaShirim Rabbah [Vilna] 1:2). And according to the 19th-century commentator Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Horowitz of Ropshicz, in fact all we heard in the moment of revelation was a single letter.

In his work Zera Kodesh, Horowitz writes: “It is possible that at Sinai we heard nothing from the mouth of God other than the letter aleph of the first utterance Anochi Adonai Eloheikhem, I am YHWH your God.” In this view, what we heard was just the aleph — itself a silent letter until a vowel of articulation is placed beneath it. As Daniel Matt writes in God & the Big Bang, “The Aleph of revelation finds expression moment by moment.” The aleph is given. What it becomes is up to us. In this understanding, then, Shavuot becomes a holiday in which we celebrate the possibility inherent in revelation and commit ourselves to be in an ongoing process to bring forth those articulations most needed in our world today. When we approach texts with our intellect, imagination, and intuition, we activate the creativity residing within each one of us and open up new realms of interpretation. In doing so, we step into our role as the commentators of today.

Shavuot not only commemorates the experience of our ancestors receiving Torah at Mount Sinai, it invites us to inhabit this sacred process of reception ourselves. In Judaism, revelation is an ongoing process in which our learning, commentary, and insights are essential. When we come up to read from the Torah, we bless, “…asher natan lanu Torat emet, v’chayei olam nata b’tocheinu, baruch atah HaShem, noten ha Torah.” Rabbi Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter, known by the name of his greatest work, Sefat Emet, gives a beautiful teaching on this verse by drawing meaning from the specificities of the grammar in this blessing: “…who gave (natan – in the past tense) the Torah of truth and implanted within us eternal life, blessed are You who gives (noten – in the present tense) the Torah” (Kedoshim 1871, s.v. ba-Midrash). In the words of Rabbi Arthur Green, “Torah given to the ancients can only become the Torah of truth when each reader takes that eternal life implanted within us and uses it to reread Torah in a way that speaks to our own lives. God not only resides behind the text as guarantor of its infinite elasticity but also dwells within us, in the innermost chambers of our endless creativity.” When we activate our creativity, we tap into the vast possibilities of what we, Torah, and God can become.

() אנכי ה' אלקיך. ולא נאמר אני, כי אילו היה כתיב אני, היה משמע שגילה אז הקב"ה לישראל את כל אורו בשלימות ולא יוכלו אח"כ להעמיק בדבריו, כי כבר גילה הכל, אך הכ"ף מורה שאינו בשלימות ורק דמות ודמיון הוא להאור שיגלה הקב"ה לעתיד, וכל מה שישיג האדם יותר עמקות בד"ת יראה שעד עכשיו היה בחושך. וע"ז מרמז היום והלילה, היום היינו שהש"י פותח שערי החכמה לאדם והלילה היינו שלא ידמה האדם שהשיג הכל בשלימות, כי כל מה שהשיג הוא כלילה נגד היום הבא אחריו וכן לעולם, וממילא הכל הוא לילה נגד האור שיפתח הקב"ה לעתיד. וזה שנסמך מאמר לא תעשה לך פסל ואיתא בזוה"ק (שמות פ"ז:) משום דכתיב פסל לך ע"כ נאמר לא תעשה לך פסל ולא תעביד לך אורייתא אוחרא. והענין בזה כי מלת פסל הוא דבר מחותך במדה וקצב ובהשלמה בלי חסרון שום דבר בעולם וזאת אינו נמצא רק בתורת מרע"ה, אבל בשכל אנושי אין באפשר לתקן דבר כזה בשלימות הגמור, כמו דאיתא (בגמ')[רות רבה פרשה ג',ב'] שאמר ליה קיסר לר' יהושע בן חנניא גם אני יכול לעשות תורה כמשה וגזר שלא יבערו אש ג' ימים ובתוך כן ראה עשן יוצא מבית אחד והשיב לו הקיסר כי שר אחד חלה והוכרח להתיר לו. והאמנם כי גם אצלינו הדין ע"פ תורתנו הקדושה כי פקוח נפש דוחה שבת, אך החילוק כי המחלל שבת ע"פ פקוח נפש אינו מתנגד לתוה"ק, כי גם זאת נצטוינו שפקוח נפש ידחה שבת. וכן בכל מקום שהוא עת לעשות לה' נרמז הציוי של הפרו תורתך ולכן התורה כוללת כל הרפתקאות שיעברו, ואורה מקיף כל האופנים וכל ההתהוות שאפשר להתהוות, וזה אין בכח שום אדם לעשות, וזה שמפרש בזוה"ק על לא תעשה לך פסל היינו במצות עשה, וכל תמונה הוא במצות ל"ת, כי לא נגלה לאדם שום דבר עד תכליתו.

The text does not say “Ani,” for if it had done so, it would have suggested that the Holy One Blessed Be He revealed all of His light to Israel, in its fullness, and that thereafter they would not have been able to go deeper in His words, for He had already revealed everything. Thus the kaf [separating ani from anochi – ed.] teaches that it was not in its fullness, but rather an image, a likeness, of the light that God will reveal in the future. And all that a man will grasp in going deeper in the words of Torah will show that, until this point, he was in darkness. Day and night suggest this reality. The day is when God opens the gates of wisdom to people. The night is so that the person will not think that he has grasped everything in its entirety. For all that he has grasped is like the nighttime, when compared to the daytime that will come afterwards. And so it always is. Thus everything is nighttime in comparison to the light that God will open up in the future. This is what is suggested by the conjunction of the verse “Do not make an idol (pesel).” The Zohar teaches that “this verse is taught on account of the [later verse], ‘Make for yourself (p’sol l’cha) [two tablets],’--therefore, do not make an idol, and do not make yourself a servant of another Torah.” The idea here is that the word pesel means something which is cut, delimited, finished and without anything missing. But this is only found in the Torah of Moses. In human thought, nothing can be finished and made completely whole. As the Midrash (Ruth Rabbah 3:2) tells: Caesar said to Rabbi Joshua ben Hanania, “I am also able to make a Torah like Moses.” And he decreed that no one light a fire for three days. But in those three days he saw smoke coming from a certain house. The Caesar was told that one of his ministers was ill, and he decided to allow [the minister to make the fire in his house]. Of course, in our holy Torah we have this same rule, that saving a life outweighs Shabbat. But the difference is that one who desecrates Shabbat to save a life does not transgress the holy Torah, because the commandment to do so is part of the Torah. Likewise, in every place in which we invoke “When it is time to do for God,” we have a hint of “abrogate your law” (Ps. 119:12). Thus the Torah contains within it all of its own future abrogations, and its light encompasses all contingencies and all circumstances that could possibly come to be. No man has the power to do this. This is how the Zohar interprets “Do not make a pesel” – this refers to the positive commandments. “Or image” – this refers to the negative commandments. For nothing is revealed to any person in its entirety.

​DEAFENING SILENCE: "Said Rabbi Abbahu in the name of Rabbi Yochanan: When the Holy One gave the Torah, no bird screeched, no fowl flew, no ox mooed, none of the ophanim (angels) flapped a wing, nor did the seraphim (burning celestial beings) chant "Kadosh Kadosh Kadosh (Holy, Holy, Holy!)" The sea did not roar, and none of the creatures uttered a sound. Throughout the entire world there was only a deafening silence as the Divine Voice went forth speaking: Anochi Adonai Elohecha (I am the Lord your God)" (Midrash Exodus Rabbah)

"THE SILENT ALEF" From The Book of Miracles (Rabbi Lawrence Kushner)

Narrator: “No one really knows for sure what happened on Mount Sinai.” One time the rabbis were arguing about it.

RABBI 1: "At Mt Sinai God spoke the entire Torah to all the Children of Israel, and Moses wrote it down as God spoke.

RABBI 2: "No! It says in the Torah that the Children of Israel heard only the Ten Commandments that were carved in stone with the finger of God.

RABBI 3: "NO NO! The people could not handle hearing all of that. It would be too much for them. They only heard God say the first word of the Ten Commandments– “ANOCHI!" אנכי and then the entire world went totally silent, not even a bird chirped or a frog croaked.” Anochi means “I am” – Basically they heard God saying “I exist – I am real”

RABBI 4: "NO NO NO!!! ‘Not even the first word, Anochi אנכי, was heard. All that God spoke was the first letter, of the first word, of the first commandment. At Sinai, all the people of Israel needed to hear was the sound of the alef. It meant that God and the Jewish people could have a conversation.”

Narrator: Jewish mysticism teaches that Alef, contains the entire Torah. But not everyone hears the gentle sound of alef. People are able to hear only what they are ready to hear. God speaks to each of us in a personal way, taking into consideration our strength, wisdom, and preparation.