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Dvar Torah - Bamidbar

"Things gain meaning by being used in a shared experience or joint action." - John Dewey

In many stories, we will find multiple themes, one dominant and several less obvious. So too the experience of receiving the Torah. The dominant theme of how we received the Torah is that G-d spoke directly to the nation, giving us ten commandments and then communicating the rest of the glorious, detailed intricate system of our religion through Moshe. This is indeed the central message of Shavuot.

However, there is another important point in this story. All Jews stood under the mountain together. We all received the Torah, and at that moment, Moshe, Aharon, the Cohanim, the Rabbis, and whoever else who was there was no different. We experience the revelation together. This is the moment at which our nation was born, and at that point we were all equal, all the community is holy. Our Rabbis understand the experience of receiving the Torah as a mass conversion experience. At that moment, all the descedents of Israel converted to be the Nation of Israel. We as a people were born that day, and of necessity, each an every person here was just as involved in that covenant.

Shavuot is about not just us having received the Torah on this date, it is about all of us having stood there together, all for us having accepted it together, and all of us having access to the Torah from that day on. This basic message is reiterated in this week's Parsha, which details the counting of the Jews and the construction of the camp. The camp was built with every tribe equidistant from the Mishkan, the tabernacle, in the centre. The tribes were arrayed around the centre, and all were equal in access.


Today, the shared experience of receiving the Torah continues to dominate the Jewish imagination. We are still talking about it. We still remember it. On Shavuo, we still relive it. However, we think mostly about what G-d did that day. It's important for us to think about the other part as well. Let's not just remember what we were given, as glorious as it is. Let's also remember who we received it, together, and carry that feeling forward for the rest of the year.


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