The defining moment for the Jewish people as a nation was the experience at Mount Sinai, when all the Jews gathered to receive the Torah. Our Sages tell us that the Jews assembled “K’ish echad b’lev echad” – as one person with one heart. Never again in the history of our people have we been able to duplicate this unconditional unified feeling.
Since then we have been disjointed – constantly at each others’ backs, always ridiculing, always squabbling. In the 12th century, Maimonides’ books were destroyed at a public burning because of this in-fighting. The author of the Mesilat Yesharim, Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, was placed in cherem (excommunication) three times during his life, all because of internal strife. The disputes and outright hostility between the Chassidim and the Mitnagdim in the 18th and 19th centuries were the result of Jewish people not respecting their brethren. And the list goes on and on.
What was so unique at Sinai? What was different then? What do our Sages mean when they state that we were “as one person with one heart”? Further, the very idea that Jews could be unified is puzzling. Weren’t the Jewish people at Sinai comprised of iniquitous personalities such as Datan and Aviram? What about the Spies? Weren’t they at Sinai as well? And the sinful Korach and all his followers? How could there have been accord amongst our people when comprising them were individuals who were certainly not righteous?
To further complicate things, our Sages comment that at the time of Sinai, those who were ill were cured. The blind and the deaf, the lame, the mute, and the sickly were all miraculously healed. On its face, this was a miracle, and it is plausible that this miracle did occur. But perhaps there might be a deeper meaning – an underlying motif and sensitivity that was present at Sinai but could never be replicated in the future.
There is no question that the congregation of Israel at the time of the giving of the Torah was comprised of divergent views, and that the people who were transgressors and who later would be singled out as sinners were present as well. However, what was distinctive about the experience at Sinai was that no one judged anyone else. People respected one another. For after all, there is only one Judge in this world and only G-d will decide whether one’s actions are wholesome and truthful. What identified Sinai was the underlying theme that we do not cast judgments on people. No one has the right to make assumptions; no one has the right to critique anyone – no one except Almighty G-d.
Equally, I believe, when our Sages state that the blind, deaf, and mute were cured, perhaps as well their cure was that no one who faced these formidable challenges was alone. At the time of Sinai, there was such caring and concern; there was always someone ready to offer a helping hand, a loving gesture imbued with respect and sensitivity.
Too often today, as in our history, our leaders are quick to jump and call people names – heretics and non-believers – instead of showing respect for all our brothers and sisters. What defined Sinai was our ability to care, to revere all Jews, all people, without question.
That kind of attitude is sorely lacking in our traditional Orthodox world today, but is vitally necessary if we are ever to rise to the level of Sinai again.
The famous Rabbi Elimelech of Lizhensk composed a beautiful prayer. In it he asks Almighty G-d: “Place in our hearts the desire that we should see the good in people and not their shortcomings; when people speak to one another that they speak with goodness and kindness, and that no one harbor hate upon their fellow Jew.”
Advice our leaders today would be wise to follow.