The shared journey

‘SHAVUOT (PENTECOST),’ by German painter Moritz Daniel Oppenheim, 1880 (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
‘SHAVUOT (PENTECOST),’ by German painter Moritz Daniel Oppenheim, 1880
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
 On Saturday night, the Jewish nation will begin celebrating Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks, also known as Zman Matan Torateinu, “the time of giving our Torah.” On this day more than 3,300 years ago, the Jewish nation stood at the foot of Mount Sinai and experienced a public revelation – the only one in human history. They heard the Ten Commandments, the foundation of Judaism, which were then written on the two tablets of the covenant.
On this day, an eternal, irrevocable covenant was sealed between two parties: the Creator of the universe, the all-capable manager of all reality; and a nation who had just been liberated from slavery, lacking a homeland or unique cultural life, a people whose past was anything but glorious and whose future was clouded with uncertainty. Total asymmetry. This is how the Jewish nation was formed and how it embarked on a long journey which continues to this day.
What is this covenant? What did both sides commit to? Actually, what are we celebrating on Shavuot?
At the revelation at Mount Sinai, the nation took part in a once-in-human-history event at which people embarked on a shared journey with God with the purpose of redeeming the world from evil. God could do this Himself; or He could have simply created a perfect world. But these two options would have left man without any existential significance or value. God chose otherwise: to share with man the process of repair while giving the Jewish nation the huge responsibility of leading humanity toward goodness, holiness and justice.
God did not make this covenant with the upper echelons of the nation. He made it with everyone – women and men, old and young, wise and less wise. Everyone was assigned the mission equally. Everyone had a job and all were found worthy and capable of spreading light.
This moment, when man was recognized as having a mission, was a foundational moment in human history. Thirty-three hundred years after the revelation at Mount Sinai, more than 50% of humanity considers this event the basis of their faith. It is surely the basis of the Jewish faith for anyone who sees himself as a link in the Jewish chain of generations. We set forth on a path at this event and were recognized by God as being worthy of a mission in which we want to continue.
The Torah is a guide for how to partake of and succeed in this journey. The commandments, stories and values build an all-encompassing worldview and a lifestyle. This is not just for the individual, but for a strong and independent nation creating a society guided by values of truth and goodness; a nation that is a “light unto the nations,” a symbol of a chosen people marching one step at a time toward the goal – the redemption of man.
“Go out, O daughters of Zion, and gaze upon King Solomon, upon the crown with which his mother crowned him on the day of his nuptials and on the day of the joy of his heart” (Song of Songs 3:11). The sages of the Mishna ask: “What is the “day of His [God’s] nuptials”? It is obviously metaphorical, but what does it mean? They answer: It is the day of giving the Torah (Tractate Ta’anit, chapter 4). Shavuot is the day when God created a partnership with man and when man was privileged to become considered a partner in this journey.
It is customary to do a “Tikkun Leil Shavuot”: to stay up all night on Shavuot and learn Torah until the morning. This tradition comes from the Zohar, where the word “tikkun” appears in Aramaic and means “decoration.” The Jewish nation lovingly decorates Shavuot by connecting to learning Torah. This is how we express our joy and excitement about recreating that empowering event of the revelation at Mount Sinai, like a couple that cannot shut its eyes the night before its wedding. The tension, excitement and anticipation are all parts of their experience. They also belong to a person embarking on a journey with the Creator of the universe – He Who “lovingly chooses His nation Israel” (from Shaharit prayer).
The writer is the rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites.