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Dvar Torah - Shavuot

There is a common practice in Shules around the world to stand up when the Ten Commandments are read. This practice is ancient. It is attested more than 1,000 years ago. And yet, it has always been controversial.

The controversy begins with the Gemara in brachot. The Gemara relates that in the Temple, before the morning sacrificial service, the Kohanim would say Shema, several blessings from the standard morning prayer service, the Priestly Blessing, and read the Ten Commandments. However, hearing this reading, the heretics began to say that only the Ten Commandments were given by G-d. They believed Moshe told us the rest out of his imagination. Of course, we believe the entire Torah is divine. To forestall this misunderstanding, the Rabbis decreed that the Ten Commandments should never be privileged in this fashion.

This recalls a famous debate about who said the Ten Commandments to the Jewish people in the first place. There are three opinions. First, many say that the text's simple meaning is that the entirety of the Ten Commandments was heard from G-d's mouth by the Jewish people. The second opinion is that only the first two commandments, "I am Hashem, your G-d", and "You shall have no other gods", were given straight from G-d. The rest required Moshe as a translator. The third opinion is that while the Jews heard the commandments at Mt Sinai, they could not understand what they heard. Instead, they just heard loud, unintelligible noises. It was for Moshe to explain their meaning. If the Jews didn't hear any words, why did they need to hear anything? The answer lies in the experience of receiving the Torah.

The Torah is two things. It is the intellectual quest to understand G-d’s will and the answer to our emotional need for connection and communication. Moshe’s retelling could satisfy one, but he other required a miraculous revelation. Our most extensive trail of belief today is that we do not often recognise he miraculous in our lives. We don’t feel in our gut the immediacy of Hashem’s involvement in our lives.

This year, when we hear the Torah being given again, let's all take a moment to appreciate the miraculous fact of our existence and the small and big miracles that sustain our lives. Doing so can replace the sound and light show we read about, which happened then, and fill the hole in our hearts.

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