Chag Ha’Shavuos: Encountering Holiness

As we finish our count of Sefiras Ha’Omer, the seven-week journey from Pesach to Shavuos, we find ourselves poised to receive the Torah once again.  The Torah reading for Shavuos begins in Parshas Yisro: בַּחֹ֙דֶשׁ֙ הַשְּׁלִישִׁ֔י לְצֵ֥את בְּנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל מֵאֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרָ֑יִם בַּיּ֣וֹם הַזֶּ֔ה בָּ֖אוּ מִדְבַּ֥ר סִינָֽי – In the third month of the Children of Israel’s departure from Egypt, on this day, they arrived in the wilderness of Sinai (Shemos 19:1). 

Rashi (ibid) teaches that they arrived in Midbar Sinai on Rosh Chodesh, on the first of Sivan.  And then, Rashi asks: Why does it say they arrived on this day; should it not say they arrived in Midbar Sinai on that day? שֶׁיִּהְיוּ דִּבְרֵי תוֹרָה חֲדָשִׁים עָלֶיךָ כְּאִלּוּ הַיּוֹם נְתָנָם – to teach you that the words of Torah should be new to you, as if they were given on this very day!  On this day… every single day, the words of Torah should be new to us, as if they were given today!

In instructing the people regarding their preparations for Kabbalas Ha’Torah, Hashem commands Moshe regarding the sanctity of Har Sinai: לֹא־תִגַּ֨ע בּ֜וֹ יָ֗ד כִּֽי־סָק֤וֹל יִסָּקֵל֙ אוֹ־יָרֹ֣ה יִיָּרֶ֔ה אִם־בְּהֵמָ֥ה אִם־אִ֖ישׁ לֹ֣א יִחְיֶ֑ה בִּמְשֹׁךְ֙ הַיֹּבֵ֔ל הֵ֖מָּה יַעֲל֥וּ בָהָֽר – No hand shall touch it (the mountain of Sinai), for he shall be stoned or cast down; whether man or beast, he shall not live.  When the ram’s horn sounds a long, drawn out blast, they may ascend the mountain (19:13).

Rashi (ibid) teaches: כְּשֶׁיִּמְשֹׁךְ הַיּוֹבֵל קוֹל אָרֹךְ, הוּא סִימָן סִלּוּק שְׁכִינָה וְהַפְסָקַת הַקּוֹל, וְכֵיוָן שֶׁאֶסְתַּלֵּק, הֵם רַשָּׁאִין לַעֲלוֹת: – When the ram’s horn sounds a long blast, it is a sign of the departure of the Divine Presence (from the mountain) and the end of the Voice, and once I, G-d, depart from the mountain, they have permission to ascend

R’ Soloveitchik zt’l teaches, “This verse (v.13) suggests an interesting halachic/historical paradox.  Jews today are prohibited from walking on Mt. Moriah upon which the Temple stood.  No power in the world can neutralize the holiness of this spot.  Yet there is no prohibition to climb Mt. Sinai, upon which the Torah was given.  Mt. Sinai maintains no residual holiness.  Why is there a difference in halachic status between the two mountains?

“Israel did not participate in the giving of the Torah.  They slept on the night of Shavuos, and Moshe had to coax the people out of their tents to receive the Torah.  The Children of Israel themselves did nothing to contribute to this seminal event.  As a result, despite being the site of the greatest divine revelation in human history, none of Mt. Sinai’s holiness endures.  As soon as the revelation was over, as soon as His Presence departed, the holiness of the mountain vanished as well. 

“The circumstances surrounding the events at Mt. Moriah were different.  Our forefather Avraham prepared an altar on that mountain and placed his son Yitzchak upon it as a sacrifice.  Avraham thus became a partner in the endowment of holiness permeating the Temple Mount.

The role of man in the endowment of holiness is a central theme in halacha.  For example, if a scribe writes a Torah scroll and does not explicitly note the sanctity of the Tetragrammaton while writing the Name, neither the Name nor the scroll has any sanctity.  The loftiness of the text itself makes no difference – if the scribe does not write the Name with intent that he is writing for the purpose of vesting holiness in the scroll, even the ultimate expression of faith itself, the Shema, becomes profane.

“A Torah scroll is invested with holiness by man.  A sacrifice is consecrated by virtue of man’s designation.  It is Knesses Yisrael who sanctifies the festivals through the establishment of the new month. 

“Whether sanctity is vested in physical matter or in time, we find few instances where man is not the active participant in the establishment of holiness” (Chumash Masores HaRav, Shemos, p.163-164). 

Why did the holiness of Mt. Sinai not remain for generations, yet the kedusha, the holiness, of Har Ha’Moriah – the site of the Akeidas Yitzchak (the Binding of Isaac) and both Batei Mikdash (Holy Temples) – remains forever: Kidesha li’she’atah, kidesha la’asid lavoholiness for that time, and holiness for the future, for all times?

Because when it came to the Revelation at Sinai, as historic, as nation-altering, as life-changing, as it was… the Bnei Yisrael overslept… they were passive… they stood at the foot hill of the mountain by the urging of Moshe.  On the other hand, Mt. Moriah symbolizes the passion of our people – beginning with our founding father, Avraham Avinu – the actions of our nation, the desire of Am Yisrael to actively serve G-d.  To paraphrase the Rav, The role of man in the endowment of holiness is a central theme in the life of a Jew.

To be an eved Hashem means to endow our lives with kedusha.  Through our actions, we bring holiness to ourselves, our people, and this world. 

A grandson of R’ Yaakov Edelstein zt’l (1924-2017, Rav of Ramat Ha’Sharon, Israel) related: “On the last Succos of his life, Rav Edelstein was in the hospital.  He had one important request: to sit in the succah for at least one minute.  The doctors gave him permission, and he went and sat for a minute in the succah, under the schach.  We saw how precious and significant that one minute was to him, how he fulfilled the mitzvah of succah in just one minute” (Reaching for Heaven, Artscroll, p.278). 

As we prepare for Shavuos 5780, let us ensure that we are ready for the encounter with holiness – וְהָיוּ נְכֹנִים! (Shemos 19:11) – and active participants in infusing our selves, our homes, and our nation with kedusha li’she’atah and kedusha la’asid lavo.

בברכת חג שמח ושבת שלום,


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