This Friday we celebrate the festival on Shavout. It was on this day over 3,300 years ago that the Jewish people stood at the base of Mount Sinai and received the Torah according to the Jewish tradition. Undoubtedly, the reception of this G-dly wisdom greatly influenced the moral and ethical fabric of human civilization. However, a midrash sheds light on an additional innovation of the wondrous event that gives us a profound indication as to our role in this world.
The midrash relates, “Once there was a king who decreed: The people of Rome are forbidden to go down to Syria, and the people of Syria are forbidden to go up to Rome. Likewise, when G‑d created the world He decreed and said: ‘The heavens are G‑d’s, and the earth is given to man.’ But when He wished to give the Torah to Israel, He rescinded His original decree, and declared: The lower realms may ascend to the higher realms, and the higher realms may descend to the lower realms. And I, Myself, will begin — as it is written, ‘And G‑d descended on Mount Sinai’, and then it says, ‘And to Moses He said: Go up to G‑d.'”
Essentially, the midrash is telling us that originally there was a schism between spirituality and physicality. The spiritual could not become physical and the physical could not become spiritual. The innovation of the Giving of the Torah was that this separation was abolished. From that moment on, man was endowed with a newfound power. A Jewish man could now take the hide of an animal, transform it into Tefillin and, by virtue of reciting a blessing and winding around his arm, actually imbue that physical item with a lofty spiritual energy. The same could be said of taking the four species on Sukkot. By virtue of a Jewish individual taking these species on the festival of Sukkot, reciting a blessing on them, and waving them in the six directions, be able to elevate the very fabric of these items. Up until the Giving of the Torah, man could not accomplish this wondrous feat. In fact, there is a further hint to this in the Torah.
The Jewish sages explain that as G-d made the thunderous utterances of the Ten Commandments at the Giving of the Torah there was no echo. They explain the significance of this as follows. When an individual shouts, sound waves emit from the person and travel outward. An echo is produced by the sound waves striking a surface and bouncing back. Therefore, the lack of an echo reveals that the sound waves were absorbed by the surface that they struck as opposed to bouncing off of them. Prior to that momentous occasion, the physical world was not receptive to divinity. As such, spirituality would bounce off of physicality, failing to be absorbed. That there was no echo at the Giving of the Torah indicates a fundamental change in the status of the world. It would no longer repel spirituality but was now a conducive environment, receptive to spirituality.
Shavuot is a reminder of this incredible change in the nature of the universe. Each of us was given the miraculous ability to transform the mundane into the sacred. By virtue of us taking a coin and giving to charity, our very arm becomes a conduit for the divine, the coin itself becomes elevated to a higher spiritual level, and the physical earth itself takes a step closer to becoming a heaven on earth. May we recognize the incredible power we were granted all those years ago, take the mantle of responsibility invested in our actions from that occasion, and use it meaningfully to make a difference in this world for the better.
– Rabbi Liad Braude