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The great Rabban Yochanan Ben Zakai was once asked by a student, “Rebbe, I have a question which has puzzled me for some time. We find in the Torah a law concerning an eved Ivri, a Hebrew slave. He serves for six years and at the end of that time he may go free. Should he refuse, however, saying that he likes his master and prefers to remain with him, the tribunal takes him and makes a hole in his ear as a punishment.”
In this week’s parshah Moshe Rabbeinu recounts ma’mad Har Sinai – the giving of the Torah on Har Sinai. Additionally, the Torah warns us earlier in the parshah not to forget the revelation that we witnessed at Har Sinai, for as the pasuk says: “Only beware for yourself and greatly beware for your soul, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen and lest you remove them from your heart all the days of your life, and make them known to your children and your children’s children” (Devarim 4:9).
On the 43rd day of the Omer I asked a child how many days there were to go. He immediately answered that 37 days remained. In response to my inquiry about his calculations, he excitedly announced that there were 37 days left to the school year! While all of us--he included--were counting down to the monumental day of receiving the Torah, he was also counting the days until he would be absolved of learning the very same Torah in the formal school environment!
There is a tradition from the Vilna Gaon that Milchemes Gog and Magog at the time of Moshiach will last only 12 minutes. In that short amount of time 1/3 of the world will be destroyed, 1/3 severely wounded and 1/3 will survive. Until recently this was incomprehensible - how could such destruction happen so quickly?
Sefer HaChinuch: The Torah commands us to count the Omer so we can relive the Exodus from Mitzrayim. Just as the Jews back then anxiously anticipated the great day when they were to receive the Torah, so too we count the days till Shavuos, the Yom Tov that commemorates the giving of the Torah. To the Jews then, accepting the Torah on Har Sinai was even greater than their redemption from slavery. So we count each day to bring ourselves to that sense of great enthusiasm, as if to say, “When will that day come?”
Klal Yisroel stood at Har Sinai and accepted the Torah in a state of supreme purity and complete unity. Every Jew reached a level of prophecy and witnessed an unparalleled revelation of G-d. Then Moshe ascended Har Sinai for forty days so G-d could teach him the laws and details of the Torah.
The entire Jewish nation – every man, woman, and child – experienced the revelation of Hashem on Har Sinai. They saw Hashem as clearly as humans can, and they attained a level of prophecy. Now they were being offered one of the greatest gifts imaginable: Hashem Himself was going to dwell among them.
Having walked through the Valley of Death, I feel I can understand Shavuos better. My wife and I just returned from Auschwitz and other tragic sites in Poland. We were never there before and I had thought we never would be, but an opportunity arose and we took it. What does this have to do with Shavuos? Everything.
As Jews in Israel and all over the world prepare to celebrate Shavuot, it is incumbent upon us to take the time to reflect on the meaning of our traditional values and history with regard to our current challenges and goals.
We are seeing the "world coalition" forming and we can well imagine what the next steps will be. Perhaps the only comfort in this difficult world is that all the events we are witnessing have been predicted by our prophets. What else gives one the strength to endure what would otherwise be unendurable?
The Aseres HaDibros, the Ten Commandments, comprise the cornerstone of our edifice of life. Every clear-thinking individual is cognizant of the fact that a home built on a shaky foundation is in danger of crumbling. Absent the divinely communicated belief system that forms the basis of our day-to-day existence, our humanity would be diminished and we would become malleable, essentially physical creatures - much like a heartless and soulless golem.
The story of Jacob Mayer is one of the most bizarre in the annals of American Jewish history. In order to understand how such a thing could have occurred, one must keep in mind that for many years America was a Jewish free-for-all.