As we descend from Sinai, after the receiving of the Torah anew in our lives, may we be compelled to reflect upon our experience, and bring the light and wisdom of the Torah forward with us day by day.
May H’Shem grant us the discernment to apply these teachings to our everyday challenges, and spread the light throughout the mundane as well as the sacred times. That all truth may flourish above and beyond the lies.
Below the surface of the earth, rests the foundation of a building, the support of an infrastructure. In the same manner, man is likened a tree, whose roots provide a reinforcement against the storms of life. “And he shall be like a tree planted by streams of water, that bringeth forth its fruit in its season, and whose leaf doth not wither; and in whatsoever he doeth he shall prosper” (Psalm 1:3, JPS 1917 Tanach).
The middah (attribute) of yesod may be understood as portraying foundational beliefs and attitudes, corresponding to what is most important in our lives. Within the context of a daily existence, some people are more intentional, with regard to living in accord with clear beliefs that generate proper conduct, based upon a specific set of truths. Others, upon examining themselves, may find that their beliefs, attitudes, and behavior are derived from various sources; whereupon, these sources may be disparate, not constituting a consistent worldview.
We should ask ourselves upon examination (heshbon hanefesh – an accounting of the soul), whether our underlying assumptions are able to withstand the harsh realities of life that may pour down upon us. Will our prevailing attitudes about life enable us to weather the various storms that we may encounter along the road of life? If not, then we should consider adding a little more support to our foundation. Strengthening ourselves, renewing our souls, and seeking guidance from the Master Architect, will help us to more closely follow the divine blueprint of life.
“And He said: ‘Certainly I shall be with thee; and this shall be the token unto thee, that I have sent thee: when thou hast brought forth the people out of Egypt, ye shall serve G-d upon this mountain.”
– Exodus 3:12, JPS 1917 Tanach
“I promise thee that when thou hast brought them forth from Egypt ye will serve Me upon this mountain — i.e. that ye will receive the Torah upon it.” – Rashi, sefaria.org
When G-d spoke to Moshe at the burning bush, Moshe asked, “Who am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh, and that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt?” (Exodus 3:11, JPS). G-d assured Moshe, despite his own doubts, that he would know that he was chosen as the Redeemer of B’nei Yisrael, when he would “serve G-d on this mountain.” In other words, that B’nei Yisrael “would serve Him at the very spot Moses was standing on at that moment” (Or HaChayim, sefaria.org). For this was the culmination of the Exodus from Egypt – the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. “And it came to pass on the third day, when it was morning, that there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud upon the mount, and the voice of a horn [shofar] exceeding loud; and all the people that were in the camp trembled” (Exodus 19:16, JPS).
The impressive array of fireworks was more than a celebration of the liberation of a people from slavery. Rashi explains that H’Shem preceded the people, by appearing on Mount Sinai first, even before Moshe went up to receive the commandments. He explains that usually a teacher does not wait for the pupil; however, H’Shem’s august Majesty preceded Him, and His Presence alighted on the mountaintop. “Now mount Sinai was altogether on smoke, because the L-RD descended upon it in fire; and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked greatly” (Exodus 19:18, JPS). “And the L-RD came down upon mount Sinai, to the top of the mount; and the L-RD called Moses to the top of the mount; and Moses went up” (Exodus 19:20, JPS 19 Tanach).
Moshe, who had previously “hid his face; for he was afraid to look upon G-d,” when H’Shem appeared to him at the burning bush, must have gained some confidence since that time. Only Moshe was permitted to climb Mount Sinai, to speak with G-d. Furthermore, he was told by H’Shem to “charge the people, lest they break through unto the L-RD to gaze, and many of them perish” (Exodus 19:21, JPS 1917 Tanach). For as is written elsewhere, “G-d is a consuming fire” (Deuteronomy 4:24). He is to be approached with awe and respect. “Thou shalt fear the L-RD thy G-d; Him shalt thou serve; and to Him shalt thou cleave [deveykus]” (Deuteronomy 10:20, JPS 1917 Tanach).
The Torah given on Mount Sinai is eternal. It was given to the B’nei Yisrael (Children of Israel) as a ketubah (a marriage contract) between G-d and Israel. This is why when a synagogue receives a new sefer Torah, it is placed under a chupah (a marriage canopy), and paraded around, while people celebrate. At Sinai, the people entered the covenant with great awe and respect. And, even before receiving the commandments, they said, “na’aseh v’nishmah,” we will do and we will understand. In other words, first we will do, then we will understand; only after performing the commandments, will we begin to fully understand their value, meaning, and intent. This was the commitment that B’nei Yisrael made, in regard to the commandments given by the L-RD our G-d, who redeemed us from slavery in Egypt (Exodus 20:2).
Shavuos commemorates Mattan Torah, the Giving of the Torah. A spectacular event, the Revelation at Sinai, when H’Shem gave B’nei Yisrael the Commandments. This was the culmination of the Exodus from Egypt. Being made a people unto H’Shem, our bond to Him was signified with the commandments, presented as a ketubah (marriage contract) to the Bride (K’lal Yisrael). Our sovereignty as a nation begins here; the declaration being made first, with Matan Torah, then, we were brought into the Land: a people first, then, we were given a country.
Today, the Torah should speak to our everyday lives; otherwise, Mattan Torah, becomes a glorious event, disconnected from our current times. When we learn Torah, we should feel compelled to incorporate these ideas into our lives; inasmuch that the Torah still has relevancy after so many generations. The Ten Commandments are a good place to start; perhaps, simply by naming them; then, reflecting on each one in relation to our lives. I could spend an entire week on the 1st Commandment, reflecting on whether I am imbued with the awareness that “H’Shem is the L-RD, our G-d.”
Although we may believe in G-d, the additional question to pose to ourselves is whether or not we have accepted His Sovereignty. In this sense, as mentioned in commentary (Baal Halachos Gedolos), the first commandment is a call to believe in the existence of G-d, and accept His authority as the source of the commandments. When we accept G-d’s Sovereignty, then the commandments become authoratative; otherwise, the commandments could be misconstrued as relative.
There is a difference between accepting the commandments for ourselves, because we recognise the inherent wisdom in them, in regard to the moral perspective that we uphold, versus accepting the commandments as the divine words of G-d, as an expression of His expectations of us. The Jewish people are bound to the commandments, regardless of whatever our perspective may be. Therefore, the primacy of the first commandment is that the authority of all of the other commandments are hinged upon the first, “I am the L-rd your G-d, who brought you out of the land of Egypt” (Exodus 20:2).