Posts Tagged ‘Revelation at sinai’

What I love about this painting is its focus on the people who stood at Sinai -- rather than on a divine and supernatural revelation.

Today I noticed an interesting synchronicity. The Torah portion we read during the first week of the new year (Veira) is the portion that begins the three-part chronicle of the Exodus. In it, God instructs Moses to demand that Pharaoh let the people go, and the first of the 10 plagues are reined down on Egypt.

Why is this synchronicity?

Well, the Exodus is, at its heart, a story of setting forth. It’s about going out into a new life and reality that is largely unknown. It is the beginning of a new chapter — just in the way the start of the (secular) New Year is also the beginning of a new chapter.

Like many Jews, the Jewish new year of Rosh Hoshana carries more emotional weight for me than the secular New Year does. It’s when I make my resolutions and really commit myself to inner reflection.

But the secular New Year carries its own gravitas. There is a certain magic to watching the numbers flip from ’10 to ’11. Every time I fill out my checkbook, sign a form or even look at the calendar, I have a very concrete and graphic reminder that another year of my life has passed, and can’t be reclaimed again.

In some ways, this makes the secular New Year a little less ephemeral, and a little less in need of communal reinforcement, than the Jewish new year does.

For the ancient Israelites — so the story goes — their new birth was punctuated by the revelation at Sinai. Their going forth was under the very clear instruction of Torah and God itself.

But what do we have that frames our going forth, our new beginning? In our post-modern, post-Enlightenment world, Torah and halacha are interesting traditions and guideposts, but they hardly carry authoritative sway. Their only authority is the authority we choose to assign them, which really, when you think about it, isn’t authority at all. If Torah had true authority, we wouldn’t feel perfectly okay picking and choosing from it!

Given this, under what values and principles do we enter this new year? If we choose to find them in Jewish tradition (and yes, even that is a choice), from where do we pluck them?

One of my favorite poets, Rivka Miriam, offers a poignant answer to this question. An award-winning writer born in Jerusalem in 1952, Rivka is the daughter of the famous Yiddish writer Leib Rochman.

Here is what she has to say in a poem from her collection, These Mountains: Selected Poems of Rivka Miriam, by Toby Press.

One Day the Torah Will Leave Us To Go Forward

by Rivka Miriam

One day the Torah will leave us to go forward
and we, used to feeling that she’s like our own body
like a landscape
that even when she turns away she keeps returning
coming and going —
as if she were one of our parents, or a child emerging from our
            loins —
suddenly we won’t know whether to cease
or to chase
we won’t know if one of our organs has been taken, the lungs, for
            example, or the blood, or the heart
the hidden light, the direct light, the encompassing light
or the surrounding light
and maybe she was only a childhood garment taken off
like a shirt that a growing child changes —
and maybe it wasn’t a garment at all, but a veil, a scarf
a curtain removed
the ancient fig leaf, passed from the first to last generation
or the very memory that was born before time
and keeps moving between spirit and flesh.

So, one day, without the Torah we will remain.
And no man among us will know if he’s still alive.
And each into the other’s eye will stare in search of Sinai.


I believe what Rivka is saying is that the answer can only be found in looking to each other. Our values and guideposts must be born out of relationships, and those I-Thou moments of turning toward the Other and seeking out our common humanity.

It is not the reception of Torah at Sinai that mattered. Rather, it is the fact we were all standing there, together, to receive it, that is the glue, and the lesson, that has lasted.

Nu — What do you think?

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