Illustration by Darius Gilmont, from the German-language ‘Torah for Children'.
(photo credit: WWW.DARIUS-ART.COM/WWW.ARIELLA-VERLAG.DE)
At the center of this week’s Torah portion is the greatest of all events – Ma’amad Har Sinai – the Revelation at Mount Sinai – when the Jewish nation received the Torah. Though this event seems at first glance to be relevant only to the Jewish people’s history, it was actually a very significant step for all of humanity.
At this event, it became clear that the existence of man in the world is not random or insignificant, but rather that man exists in order to fulfill a lofty and important role. Indeed, when God created the world, He chose man as His partner in running it, a partner who despite his many weaknesses has the power to bring about change and improvement to all of reality.
The Torah is not an instruction manual, but a partnership agreement between man and his creator. This partnership – which is seemingly limited to those who received the Torah, the Jewish nation, points to the proper role of any man. He is demanded to restrict his character and erase his desires; his existence does not “disturb” the Divine plan; he is not given directives that are disconnected from his life but rather he is a partner in tikkun olam (repair of the world), a partner whose desires and tendencies are part of the mosaic that creates the huge potential of bringing the entire world to redemption, a redemption that has no suffering and no sin.
When God offered the Torah to Am Yisrael, the Jewish nation’s reaction was direct and clear, despite not knowing what commandments were included in the Torah: “And all the people replied in unison and said, ‘All that the Lord has spoken we shall do.’” (Exodus 19:8) In relation to this answer, we read in the Babylonian Talmud about an interesting story that took place in Babylon about 1,700 years ago: “There is a story of a heretic who saw Rabba [of the great Talmudic sages] studying a Jewish legal issue, and the fingers on his hand were under his legs and were bleeding, and he [Rabba] did not notice since he was so focused. The heretic told him: ‘The Jewish nation is an impulsive nation, you spoke before you listened [meaning, you gave a positive answer before you heard the commandments of the Torah], and you stand by your impulsiveness. You should have listened first to hear what it was about, and seen that if you could stand by it, you accept it; and if you cannot, you do not accept it.’ Rabba answered him: ‘We walked with God innocently, in good faith.’” (Story based on the Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Shabbat, daf 88.) The answer given by Rabba shows us one of the fundamentals of Judaism that preceded receiving the commandments, and as the commentator of the Torah and Talmud Rashi explains: “We walked with Him innocently as one does out of love, and we trusted Him not to burden us with anything we couldn’t handle.” Meaning, receiving the Torah could not happen on the basis of suspicion and lack of faith, but only on the basis of love and trust in God. Only in this way could the nation declare, “All that the Lord has spoken we shall do!” even without knowing what God was going to say.
This is not a story about distant history. This is a phenomenon that exists to this day, when people express their faith in God and their faith in His love for them, only then can they enter that partnership of tikkun olam. This partnership must be based on faith that has no restrictions; faith that works both ways: God believes in man with limitless faith and is confident that despite the many human mistakes we make, we have the capacity to hold up our end of the partnership. At the same time, man has faith that God’s will is always good and that His commandments lead us to do the right thing, to advance, to redemption.
The writer is rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites.