Growing up in Eretz Yisrael, it always symbolized for me the connection we have had with the Land, its cultivation, its protection and appreciation of the gift that it is. But there is so much more that happened during that time in the history of Am Yisrael, so much to be proud of and so much to share with the world.Shavuot in Hebrew, the beautiful language of Am Yisrael, means weeks. It marks the seven weeks or forty - nine - day period between Pesach, the time of the Exodus from Egypt and this holiday. The Torah, according to tradition, was given to Am Yisrael at Mount Sinai on Shavuot. The Hebrew root of the word Shavuot, is Shin, Vet, Ayinש,ב,ע which also happens to be the root of the word Shevua שבועה meaning oath. It is, therefore, correspondingly, the Holiday where G-d and Am Yisrael renew the eternal covenant which we entered at Mount Sinai.
I have been to Mount Sinai. I stood on top of it where Moshe received the Torah and where G-d revealed Himself to Am Yisrael. G-d did not appear to them in any shape or form, merely in a spectacular scene in the configuration of sounds, lights, torches and the reverberation of the Shofar. "וְכָל הָעָם רֹאִים אֶת הַקּוֹלֹת וְאֶת הַלַּפִּידִם וְאֵת קוֹל הַשֹּׁפָר וְאֶת הָהָר עָשֵׁן וַיַּרְא הָעָם וַיָּנֻעוּ וַיַּעַמְדוּ מֵרָחֹק" (Exodus, 20; 14). This dazzling audio visual spectacle must have had a profound effect on those witnessing it for according to the Hebrew quote above, they “saw” the sounds. The root Re’eh, Reish Alef, Hey ר,א,ה also appears in the Tanach in the context of “understand.” They internalized the divine message and acknowledged it by pledging, “Na’aseh Ve’nishma.” We shall do and we shall hear.
What a sight, what an emotional upheaval it must have been for those present. When I stood on top of that mountain and looked down at the valley underneath where all of Am Yisrael was gathered, I closed my eyes for a brief moment. I was one of them. I could feel the surge of their emotions, the quivering of the foundations of their being, their joy, their ecstasy and the reflection of awe in their eyes. I could feel the words and the sounds that they witnessed as they were being etched on the walls of their essence, an imprint that has been passed on to us, their descendants.
Standing there, I felt proud, very proud, for yet another reason.The exact number of those that came out of Egypt is not clear. We do know, however, that there were at least 600,000 men among them. So one can safely surmise that there were at least 600,000 witnesses to what I described above, witnesses to their covenant with the G-d of Avraham, Yaakov and Yitzchak. Now what other religion, especially among the monotheistic ones, can claim such a widespread testament to validate that experience? And we all know that there is credibility and authority in numbers. With all due respect to other religions where Divine revelation rendered itself to one individual, I am very glad that to our covenant there were so many witnesses! It certainly sends a strong message out.
There is still another, not less important facet to the Holiday of Shavuot, a social, humanitarian one.During Shavuot, it is customary to read the Book of Ruth. It is a tale of Love, Faithfulness, dedication and the reward that comes along with it. Ruth is a Moabite woman who vows loyalty to her mother in law, Naomi. Naomi, her husband and both their sons had moved to Moab to escape the famine in Eretz Yisrael. One of her sons married Ruth. After the untimely death of Naomi’s husband and sons, Ruth refused to leave her mother in law and returned along with her to Eretz Yisrael. Ruth, not only left everything behind her, she also abandoned her religion and adopted that of Naomi. By that, Ruth displayed the epitome of loyalty and dedication on two planes, the two planes of the Torah, the universal one and the Jewish one. As a gentile, through her devotion to and respect for Naomi, she fulfilled the common, general, humane moral code taught in the Torah. When she became a Jewess, a member of Am Yisrael,, she also lived and practiced the tenets of Torah relating to Jews only through adhering to them and following them. Ruth encapsulates the implementation of what I regard as the two guiding manuals of Torah one for both Jews and humanity in general and one for Jews only. For her loving kindness, Ruth was blessed immeasurably. She became one of the foremothers of the House of David from within which, Mashiach will come.The message this Shavuot keeps echoing loud and clear. What matters in the eyes of G-d is that we, Jew, Gentile and other be first and foremost good human beings and live up to the common moral code which bounds humans wherever they are and which Torah prescribes. As Jews, and members of Am Yisrael, however, He expects us to follow both, the Moral code that he gave to humanity and most importantly, remember the Covenants that we entered with Him, remain loyal to their oath and keep them holy.