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 What Happened At Sinai? Our Response


From Sinai To Mashiach

More Than Coincidence

Nothing happens by chance. From the fluttering of a leaf in the wind to the transfer of power from nation to nation, [1] every motion in the world is controlled by a unique fiat of the divine will.

This principle applies even with regard to worldly matters; how much more so regarding events directly involving the Torah and its mitzvos.

In this light, it is significant that the sixth of Sivan, the date of the Giving of the Torah, is associated with two other landmarks in Jewish history: the passing of King David, [2] and the passing of the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Chassidism. [3]

Concerning the passing of a tzaddik, the Alter Rebbe writes: [4] "All the effort of man in which his soul toiled throughout his life... becomes revealed and radiates downward... at the time of his passing, and... 'brings about salvation in the midst of the earth.'" [5]

The passing of these two luminaries on the date of the Giving of the Torah thus indicates that their lifework is connected with that event. For both King David and the Baal Shem Tov amplified the spiritual content of the Giving of the Torah.

Bridging the Chasm

The revelation at Sinai marks a turning point in the spiritual history of the world.

Before the Giving of the Torah, there was no possibility for union between the world's material substance and spiritual reality.

With the Giving of the Torah, however, G-d [6] "nullified that original decree and said, 'The lower realms shall ascend to the higher realms and the higher realms shall descend to the lower. And I shall take the initiative.' As it is written, [7] 'And G-d descended on Mount Sinai,' and 'To Moshe He said, Ascend to G-d.'" [8]

This process involves two stages:

  1. "And G-d descended" - the manifestation of G-dliness in the world. This stage reached complete expression with the Giving of the Torah and with the revelation of the Divine Presence in the Sanctuary;

  2. "Ascend to G-d" - the refinement of man and his surrounding environment and the transformation of man and his world into vessels for G-dliness. This process began with Moshe's ascent to Mount Sinai and has never ceased.

David's Achievements

This process of refinement reached a peak at the time of King David and was reflected in two significant achievements.

The first was the consolidation of the monarchy. Although Shaul had served as king of Israel before David, his sovereignty was not accepted by all the tribes. [9]

Furthermore, Shaul's reign differed fundamentally from that of David.

"Once David was anointed, he acquired the royal crown. From that time on, royalty belongs to him and his... descendants forever." [10] This was not the case with Shaul.

David's second great achievement was the building of the Beis HaMikdash. Although the actual structure was built by his son, King Shlomo, [11] David prepared its blueprints and building materials. [12]

Indeed, the Midrash [13] refers to the Beis HaMikdash as the "House of David."

Homage to a king, and to the King of kings

The establishment of the monarchy is connected to Israel's endeavor to make this world a vessel for G-dliness.

Relationships such as those between teacher and student or between two friends depend on communication and sharing.

Moreover, because these relationships are confined to the areas where this sharing takes place, they are limited in scope. The relationship between a king and his subjects, by contrast, is all-encompassing, for the existence of the subjects depends completely on the king.

For this reason, the violator of even an insignificant command is considered a rebel deserving of capital punishment. [14]

There are two aspects to this stringency:

  1. Because the subject's relationship to his king encompasses the full scope of his existence, even the minutest particulars of the relationship, the smallest possible violation of the king's will, are significant;

  2. Because this relationship reaches to the core of the subject's existence, when the subject obstructs the relationship through his failure to obey, his very existence is threatened.

An earthly monarchy stems from - and serves as an analogy to - our relationship with the King of kings.

The purpose of a Jewish monarchy is to teach the people self- nullification to the king in order to intensify their self- nullification to G-d. [15]

The s elf-nullification of the people to a mortal king should infuse kabbalas ol, "the acceptance of G-d's yoke," into every dimension of their divine service, deepening the intensity of their commitment until it affects their very essence. [16]

A Commitment to the Torah which Stems from Our Selves

The effect of the monarchy upon our divine service mirrors the above motif, "And Moses ascended."

The commitment of kabbalas ol, accepting G-d's reign, stems from man himself, for ideally, kingship is invited by the king's subjects, and not imposed upon them. [17]

Thus it reflects man's own desire to tie the essence of his being to G-d.

In contrast, the complementary motif, "And G-d descended," the revelation of the Torah from above, introduces a new and external dimension to man's framework of reference: we serve G-d, because He commanded us to do so. [18]

A Dwelling for G-d in the World

A similar concept finds expression in the construction of the Beis HaMikdash.

Although the Divine Presence was revealed in the Mishkan (the Sanctuary which accompanied the Jews in the desert) even before the building of the Beis HaMikdash, the Beis HaMikdash was unique in that its actual physical location became a dwelling place for G-d, permanently affecting the nature of the site.

Even after the Beis HaMikdash was destroyed, its site remains holy. [19]

The revelation of G-dliness in the Sanctuary was a stage in the process in which "G-d descended," the revelation of G-dliness within the world. That revelation did not, however, change the nature of the world itself.

Accordingly, after the Sanctuary was moved to another location, its holiness did not remain in its previous site.

The construction of the Beis HaMikdash, however, demonstrates how the world itself can be transformed into a dwelling place for G-d.

The Consummation of the Process

The ultimate goal of creation is a fusion of the two approaches, that there be both revelation of G-dliness from above and that man transform himself and the environment in which he lives into vessels for G-dliness. This ideal will be realized in the Era of the Redemption: there will be transcendent revelations of G-dliness - but in a world which has been refined. For Mashiach "will perfect the entire world, [motivating all the nations] to serve G-d together." [20]

Herein lies the connection of Shavuos to the Baal Shem Tov.

In a celebrated letter, [21] the Baal Shem Tov describes the ascent of his soul to the heavenly abode of Mashiach.

"Master," he asked, "when are you coming?" And Mashiach replied, "When the wellsprings of your teachings spread outward."

Since G-d rewards man "measure for measure," [22] we can understand that the spreading of the Baal Shem Tov's teachings will precipitate the coming of Mashiach, because these teachings represent a foretaste of the Era of the Redemption, revealing how every dimension of our worldly existence is in truth permeated by G-dliness.

The coming of Mashiach is connected not only to the Baal Shem Tov, but also to the Giving of the Torah and to King David.

The Giving of the Torah is described as a microcosm of the Era of Redemption. [23] And of Moshe Rabbeinu, the lawgiver, [24] it is said, "He was the first redeemer, and he will be the final redeemer." [25]

The connection between the Redemption and King David is reflected by the fact that Mashiach will be one of his descendants. [26]

Indeed, Mashiach is identified with King David to the extent that we pray for his coming with the request, "Speedily cause the scion of David... to flourish." [27]

May this daily prayer be fulfilled in the immediate future, and may we witness the ultimate purpose of G-d's intent in giving man the Torah, with the coming of the Redemption.

Adapted from Likkutei Sichos, Vol. VIII, Shavuos

Footnotes:

  1. (Back to text) See Likkutei Sichos, Vol. VII, p. 277 ff.

  2. (Back to text) Jerusalem Talmud, Chagigah 2:3. Birkei Yosef (gloss to Orach Chayim 494:11) explains that this is why it is customary to read the Book of Ruth on Shavuos.

    The Babylonian Talmud (Shabbos 30a) states that King David died on Shabbos, and according to the current fixed calendar (cf. the first footnote to the previous essay) it is impossible for Shavuos to fall on that day. This apparent contradiction can be resolved: because at the time of King David's passing the calendar was still determined by the testimony of witnesses, in that year Shavuos could have fallen on Shabbos. See Seder HaDoros, sec. 2924.

  3. (Back to text) Likkutei Dibburim, Vol. I, p. 32a (and in English translation: Vol. I, p. 75). See also Likkutei Sichos, Vol IV, p. 1031, which likewise explains that the Baal Shem Tov was brought to burial on the seventh of Sivan, the second day of Shavuos. Thus, he shares a connection with both of the dates on which the festival is celebrated in the Diaspora.

  4. (Back to text) Tanya, Iggeres HaKodesh, Epistle 28.

  5. (Back to text) Cf. Tehillim 74:12.

  6. (Back to text) See Shmos Rabbah 12:3. This concept is explained in the above essay entitled "What Happened at Sinai?"

  7. (Back to text) Shmos 19:20.

  8. (Back to text) Ibid. 24:1.

  9. (Back to text) Bamidbar Rabbah 4:20.

  10. (Back to text) Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Melachim 1:7.

  11. (Back to text) Shabbos (loc. cit.) also points to a connection between Shlomo HaMelech and Shavuos, noting that David's life was not prolonged even slightly beyond its appointed span, for "the time for Shlomo's reign had already come," viz., Shavuos.

  12. (Back to text) I Divrei HaYamim 29:2 ff.

  13. (Back to text) Tanchuma, Parshas Naso 13.

  14. (Back to text) Rambam, loc. cit. 3:8.

  15. (Back to text) Derech Mitzvosecha, Mitzvas Minui Melech.

  16. (Back to text) The sliding scale of punishment for transgressions of the Torah implies that not all of its commandments affect people in the same manner as do the commandments of a king Developing a relationship to a king can thus intensify one's observance of the Torah as a whole.

  17. (Back to text) See Vol. I in the present series, p. 19ff.

  18. (Back to text) Even when one's commitment to the Torah is all- encompassing, since it stems from G-d's command it does not fully permeate the finite individual. Cf. the analogy of a student mastering a concept as discussed in the above essay entitled "What Happened at Sinai?"

  19. (Back to text) On the verse (Vayikra 26:31), "I will lay waste to your sanctuaries," our Sages (Megillah 28a) comment, "Even when they are destroyed they remain sanctuaries." See also II Divrei HaYamim 7:15, which states: "I have chosen and sanctified this house, so that My Name will be there for eternity and so that My heart and My eyes will be there forever."

  20. (Back to text) Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Melachim 11:4.

  21. (Back to text) This letter, addressed by the Baal Shem Tov to his brother-in-law, R. Gershon Kitover, describes the ascent of his soul on Rosh HaShanah, 5507 (1746). The letter was first published in Ben Poras Yosef, and appears in part in Keser Shem Tov, sec. 1.

  22. (Back to text) Sanhedrin 90a.

  23. (Back to text) Tanya, ch. 36.

  24. (Back to text) Cf. Malachi 3:22: "Remember the Torah of Moshe, My servant."

  25. (Back to text) Shmos Rabbah 2:4.

  26. (Back to text) Rambam, loc. cit. 11:1.

  27. (Back to text) Siddur Tehillat HaShem, p. 56.
 What Happened At Sinai? Our Response



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