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The Giving of the Torah

by Rabbi Adin (Steinsaltz) Even-Yisrael

  

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After the great miracles of the Exodus, the splitting of the Red Sea and all of the major events that the Jewish people experienced before arriving at Mount Sinai came the Giving of the Torah. What was the purpose of the sublime revelation itself? The actual contents of the Ten Commandments – for instance, belief in God, honoring one's parents, and the prohibition against murder – are the cornerstones of human morality and can be reached through logic. Moreover, our forefather Abraham is said to have fulfilled all the commandments long before the revelation at Mount Sinai. What, then, did the Giving of the Torah actually add to the world?

Every Jew has a "Godly spark," which is the innermost core of his spiritual life. This spark is always there, even when we cannot see beyond the screens that hide it. And since this spark is the "holy of holies" of the soul, we always aspire to God, whether consciously or unknowingly.

Every Jew has a "Godly spark," which is the innermost core of his spiritual life
Some people seek a philosophical closeness with God; others are led to it by the events of their lives, by delving into the mysteries of nature, or by examining Jewish history. Another way of nurturing the desire for closeness with God is by looking into oneself: "From my flesh shall I see God" (Job 19:26); it is the understanding that God is the source and essence of not only the entire universe, but also of my own private soul.

However, even when the desire for closeness with God turns into a conscious, clear drive – even when it pushes us to search for God – we are in the dark: As we read in Kedushah, "Where is the place of His glory?"  In the pre-Revelation world, man strove to reach God but remained distant, despite all his efforts.

Generally, the first thing that the God-seeker wants to do is to transcend the limitations of matter and soar to the abstract and the spiritual. Our material body and the physical world seem to be the greatest obstacles on our path. Sometimes, one can reach peaks of love for the Divine and totally abandon the world. But is this really the proper approach?

Furthermore, deeper thinking will reveal that whatever we do, we will never be able to comprehend God. Whatever we may feel of God's life-giving light is but a tiny, dim spark; in truth, the Almighty Himself is far beyond anything that even the most sublime human mind can comprehend. To Him, not only physical matter, but even the highest degree of spirituality, is nothing.

It follows, then, that all human efforts to get closer to God are bound to fail. However high one may ascend, there will always remain an infinite, unbridgeable gap between man and God. We feel the desire to come closer to God, yet we have no means for fulfilling it.


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Mitzvah
(pl. Mitzvot). A commandment from G-d. Mitzvah also means a connection, for a Jew connects with G–d through fulfilling His commandments.
Torah
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Kabbalah
Jewish mysticism. The word Kaballah means "reception," for we cannot physically perceive the Divine, we merely study the mystical truths which were transmitted to us by G-d Himself through His righteous servants.
Tanya
Foundation text of Chabad chassidism. Authored by Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of the Chabad movement, and first published in 1796. Considered to be the "Bible" of Chassidism.
Abraham
First Jew, and first of our three Patriarchs. Born into a pagan society in Mesepotamia in 1812 BCE, he discovered monethieism on his own. He was told by G-d to journey to the Land of Canaan where he and his wife Sarah would give birth to the Jewish People.
Exodus
1. The miraculous departure of the Israelites from Egyptian bondage in 1312 BCE. 2. The second of the Five Books of Moses. This book describes the aforementioned Exodus, the giving of the Torah, and the erection of the Tabernacle.