Story #1: A Freely Available Resource
Many Rabbinic sources ask the question: Why did revelation happen in the wilderness? Why not have this momentous event occur in the Land of Israel? The Midrash below is one of many that focuses the importance of Torah as something that is ownerless and open to all, like the wilderness.
1) The first part of this midrash makes an analogy between Torah and the wilderness, but takes for granted that we understand the similarities. Why do you think it is important that the Torah be freely available for all? What is the spiritual significance of such an idea?
2) The second part of the Midrash explains that just as the wilderness is ownerless, so too should a person be "ownerless" to acquire knowledge. What does it mean to make yourself ownerless, and why does it help you study Torah?
3) What are the resources that are freely available in your world, and how do you think that shapes your attitude towards those resources?
The idea that Torah is there for the taking, for anyone who wishes, shapes a vision of Torah as something open and accessible. We know that many people do not feel that way; ancient texts are often seen as esoteric and hard to engage with. If we believe that Torah is truly open to all, how might that shift the way we talk about it, study it, and share it? Maybe we would include Torah in more areas of our lives, or perhaps feel more comfortable telling others about ideas, insights, or Torah encounters that we experience. And perhaps the quest to be "ownerless" challenges us to examine the other demands that lay claim to our attention and our time, or even to confront the voice inside our head that tells us we "can't" or "wouldn't want to" spend time with Torah. Our celebration of the revelation is a chance to tell ourselves a new story about our ability to access Torah.
Story #2: Coercion
The Talmudic sources quoted below tell us that the People of Israel were forced to accept the Torah at Sinai. Their desire for Torah - or lack thereof - was not relevant to what happened. There's no indication in the Biblical text that they resisted, but these sections of the Talmud say that it wouldn't have mattered, because God wasn't taking no for an answer.
1) If you click to open this source in Sefaria, you can click on the verse that is quoted and check it out in context. You'll see that it is a pretty unremarkable statement in the Torah; it seems the people were standing at the foot of the mountain. It is a definitely a choice to read it as saying that they were underneath Mt. Sinai. Why do you think the rabbis would read the story this way? What is there to be gained from saying that the giving of the Torah was coerced?
2) Why is the idea that we were forced to accept the Torah a "substantial caveat" to the obligation to fulfill mitsvot? Why should it matter if we were forced?
This source expresses a fundamental tension over the way humans experience choice. On the one hand, the ability to choose freely may give us a greater sense of agency and ownership over those choices.
1) What is the value of coercion, according to this text?
2) In reflecting on your own experiences, when is being forced to do something a positive experience, and when is it negative?
Coercion and choice are themes that run through Rabbinic interpretations of the revelation at Sinai. They also have broader significance in Jewish thought as it relates to obligation and mitzvot. Search for "coercion" on Sefaria to learn more, and explore Sefaria's new Topics Feature to surface texts related to themes and ideas that interest you.
Story #3: New Torah is (Re)created Every Day
Revelation is often presented as a continuous process, and one that can only take place if we engage and search for new meaning.
1) Why do you think it is important to the Rabbinic tradition to portray Torah as something that is new each day?
2) How do you implement this idea in your own life, or how might you imagine implementing this?
Sefaria's work emerges from the belief that people are always discovering new meaning in Torah, and creating materials to express these meanings. This kind of creativity thrives on collaborative and interactive Torah study, which is why our tools allow for collaboration and conversation.
Story #4: Torah is Delicious
One of the reasons provided for eating sweet dairy treats on Shavuot is that Torah is compared to something sweet, comforting, and delicious.
Where does it say that "honey and milk are under your tongue?" What is the Kol Bo quoting?? Tip: Try searching for this quote on Sefaria!
Oh, there it is! But what does this have to do with Shavuot?
Torah, at its best, is sweet, delicious, and comforting (try searching for "Cheesecake" on Sefaria and see what happens...)