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Friday, 22 May, 2015 - 7:25 am





It is somewhat unclear what the Pope actually said earlier this week regarding a certain Palestinian leader. Whatever he said, though, the setting was not in favor of Israel. That is very clear. When the said Palestinian leader consistently promotes the destruction of Israel and its citizens in words and deeds, only the boorish ignorant would consider him a partner for peace with Israel. That should be obvious to anyone who cares about peace.


Without getting into the details of the story, it is abundantly clear that Israel is held to a unique standard by the rest of the world. Israel’s very existence is not merely threatened by its bitter sworn enemies, but actions of countries that one would expect to discern between right and wrong, constantly condemn Israel for whatever suits them at a particular moment. Those shameful actions contribute to, and increase, the constant threat under which Israel has stood from the beginning of its existence.


Sure, Israel makes mistakes – like every other country. By contrast, North Korea, Pakistan, countries in Africa, and many more, do not make mere mistakes. They intentionally murder their own citizens and squash human rights, as well as political rivals, at will. Yet, the existence of these brutal countries is neither questioned nor threatened. Just Israel.


It is remarkable that, despite every possible challenge and from both inside and outside of the country, Israel remains blessed with incredible success. Its economy, its security, its technological and medical advances, plus its allure for tourists of all stripes and colors, continues, thank Heavens, to grow and improve. The country is beautiful, and the amount of unconditional kindness it shows to all is astounding – as the recent Israeli medical response to the needy in Nepal following their devastating earthquake.


The secret of success for Israel, I believe, lies in how the Almighty chose to communicate with His people all the way back at the beginning of their becoming a people, at Mount Sinai. The festival of Shavuos – beginning this Saturday night and continuing till Monday night – commemorates this momentous and historic event, from 3,327 years ago.


It was to Mount Sinai where every member of the original Jewish people – male, female, young and old, scholar and layman alike – was invited. This is when the Jewish people truly became a nation. This nation was provided with a set of guidelines at this Mountain, through which they would become “the nation of G-d.” These principles began with the Ten Commandments, communicated verbally by the Almighty Himself at the gathering at the mountain, and eventually expanded to all 613 commandments in the Torah.


In other words, every commandment – not only the famous Ten Commandments – was delivered to the Jewish people at Sinai. Certain commandments were delivered publicly to all the people, while the rest were delivered to Moses when he spent time on the Mountain with the Almighty, and were eventually were recorded in the Torah and taught to the people. Even those commandments which unfolded while the Jewish people were in various locations in the desert many miles away from Mount Sinai, originated there, at Sinai.


The fact that all of the Torah’s commandments originated at Sinai is understood from the Torah portion of last week, “B’har.” That portion begins with the words: “G-d spoke to Moses at Mount Sinai saying: Speak to the children of Israel saying: When you come to the Land that I am giving you, the Land should rest a Sabbath to G-d.” (Vayikra (Leviticus) 25:1-2.)


These “Sabbatical Year” laws (as discussed in last week’s Good Shabbos Email) are intricate and complex, possessing many complicated details. The Torah wishes to teach, write the Sages of the Midrash, that each commandment, with all its details and intricacies, originated from the Almighty at Sinai, just as the one concerning the Sabbatical year did.


The question, then, begs to be asked: why choose the Sabbatical year as the example for the rest of the Torah’s commandments?


The answer is about the importance of Sinai and the resilience of the Jewish people who were assembled there. The revelation of the Almighty on Sinai was remarkable. Amid thunder claps, lightning flashes, a blast of the Shofar, smoke, fiery clouds, and much drama, the Almighty “Descended onto Mount Sinai” and delivered the words of the Ten Commandments (Shmos (Exodus) 19:20.) It should come as no surprise that the people were completely awe-struck by the overwhelming sacredness of this spiritual event.


One can only imagine what was on the minds of those privileged to witness this transcendental experience. One can be certain what was not on their minds: working the Land, or even the food the Land would produce. They must have been mindful of infinitely more than earth and food, or leaving those fields fallow for the Sabbatical year.


Moreover: The Sabbatical year was not merely a distant thought from the mind of the people at Mount Sinai. The event of the Sabbatical year would not even come into play for another sixty years after Sinai! How could it have been on their minds? The divine experience of Sinai was as far as can be from the Sabbatical year – from a practical standpoint, as well as a philosophical standpoint.


Yet, precisely this apparently distant commandment was chosen to demonstrate how every commandment originated from the Almighty at Sinai. This is because the purpose of Sinai was to permeate all worldly elements with the Divine revelation at Sinai all the way down to the lowly earth. And so, while the earth of the Land was not on the mind of the people at Sinai, it was most definitely very much on the mind of the Almighty. For the entire purpose of the Sinai experience was to demonstrate that the Almighty and His earth, with all its contents and creations, are intrinsically one and the same.


And Sinai had one more purpose: The perseverance, the determination, the tenacity, of hanging in and never giving up hope. The laws of the Land were taught at Sinai, but as an instruction for the distant future. It was as though the people were being told: An important and critical part of your Holy Land experience – the Sabbatical year, a year in which many Divine blessings would be experienced – would appear, but only much later, in sixty years. The Jewish people would thus be trained to remain focused, even during the years of absence.


Mount Sinai changed the world forever. Since Sinai, the Jewish people have introduced to this world meaning, purpose, morality, life, respect for human dignity, and a demonstration of a human connection with the Divine. The impact of those principles on history is unparalleled.


Perhaps because of those principles brought from Sinai, the Jewish people have faced – for over three thousand years! – demonic forces of irrational anti-Semitic hatred and violence wherever they have been. Yet, as learned from Sinai, they have never let the dream stop, never lost hope, in returning to their homeland, to their G-d, and ultimately to themselves.


No one in the Vatican, or anywhere else, will ever, not ever, change that. Sinai lives on forever, as do the Jewish people.


By attending the reading of the Ten Commandments this coming Sunday, all can relive this powerful experience, and realize that they, and the people receiving them, are here forever.



SUMMARY: The experience at Sinai was not merely about the Almighty in Heaven, but about the Almighty everywhere, on earth and with His people always.

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