Parshat Bemidbar, Numbers 1:1-4:20
“And God said to us at Mount Sinai, ‘Today you stand before Me, all of you, your leaders and your followers, your children and your wives, even the stranger; all of you, from the woodchopper to the waterdrawer, stand before Me to enter into this covenant. And I make this covenant not with you alone, but both with those of you who are standing before me today and with those who are not with us here today.’”
This is revelation, an act whereby the hidden, unknown God is revealed to the people at Mount Sinai. It is when the individual Israelites became one Jewish people. When the contract with God passed from the hands of our ancestors — Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Leah, and Rachel — to our hands. And when we evolved from individual Jews to one Jewish people, a people of God. For the very first time, God spoke to all of us and we responded, na’aseh v’nishmah, “We shall do and we shall hear.” The Jewish people made a pact with God. As it says in Deuteronomy, “And we have seen this day that God does speak with Man.”
As Rabbeinu Bachya wrote 700 years ago, “The covenant was binding even on unborn generations who were not physically present at Mount Sinai to enter it.” We all received the covenant with God. We all received the Torah. Being present in shul among a multitude of Jews is one way we re-enact the Sinai experience. So is sending our children to Jewish camps and engaging in lifelong Jewish learning.
Sinai means that we are all klal yisrael, all part of the congregation of Israel, young and old, man and woman, rich and poor, observant and unobservant. I believe that there are many ways to approach Judaism and God. Ritual observance is one way. Sacred family time, however you define it, is another. So is visiting the sick, welcoming visitors into our homes, comforting the mourner and caring for the environment. By taking on mitzvot, we are personally experiencing Sinai in our time.
There is no shelf life to connectedness to God. The covenant is understood as a two-way relationship. God is revealed through magnificent nature and a still, small voice. We can experience God in our homes, in our families, in our workplaces, in our interactions with our coworkers, and in how we reach out to others in need. Whether as an individual or as a community, we can re-enact Sinai. We can put ourselves back at the mountain. We can renew our vow to God.
This Shavuot, let’s challenge ourselves to think about how we can express Sinai every day.
Rabbi Alex Greenbaum is the spiritual leader of Beth El Congregation of the South Hills. This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.