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Sleepless in Sinai...

by Rabbi Shlomo Chein


Library » Holidays » Shavuot » Essays | Subscribe | What is RSS?


...At least that’s what you would think.

G-d however found a different motionless picture.

Let me explain:

The Jews were about to experience the crème de la crème of G-dly revelations. The Sinai Experience was unprecedented and never duplicated. An entire nation, some 3 million people, were about to have an encounter with G-d.

They say a picture is worth more than a thousand words. So stop reading this article for a moment and try to picture yourself in that situation: slavery, miraculous plagues, Exodus, splitting of the sea, manna, bitter waters turned sweet, supernatural victory in battle… who/what is behind all these miracles?

Patience, you’ll soon find out.

Patience? How soon?

Continue counting the weeks and days… 45 of 49 days have already passed. 46, 47, 48… in two days you will meet the Phenomenon behind the phenomena… 49, in one day you will be addressed by the Creator of creation… the sun sets over the Sinai desert… in twelve hours you will know beyond any shadow of doubt there really is a G-d…

Can you sleep?

Twelve hours later G-d appears on the mountain. And you are fast asleep.

Shocking as it sounds, that’s what happened.

It is so shocking because everything else happened just as you would imagine. The Jews were curious who was behind the miracles. The Jews were excited about the Sinai Encounter. They did count the days.

They not only waited for this day; they arduously prepared for it. In 49 days they went through every aspect of their character and refined it to perfection in order to be worthy of this Divine Revelation. And yet when G-d finally appeared He found a People in deep sleep.

How did they sleep in? How did they sleep, period?

They slept well actually. Very well.

They slept because they were tired. Tired of trying to perfect a soul while it is trapped in a body. After 49 days of character refinement they yearned for something more, something super special as a final preparation for the big day.

In anticipation of meeting G-d they yearned to be G-dly. They went to sleep to let their souls transcend the limitations of the physical body, and enjoy drifting amongst supernal beings.

After all, Abraham fell into a deep sleep when G-d met with him at the covenant. Jacob was sleeping when he saw the angels on the ladder and was addressed by G-d. And throughout Jewish history sleep time has been utilized for spiritual revelation and insight.

This night was no different. Or at least so they thought.

In reality this night was very different. That night in Sinai should have been sleepless.

You see, the whole point of the Sinai experience was to enable humans to find G-d in the physical. G-d descended upon the mountain, gave Moses stone tablets, and gave us tangible dos and don’ts, because He wanted the ball to be played in our court.

He wanted us to experience Him here. But we were sleeping.

We were sleeping because we missed the point. We did not understand that the best place to find G-d would be right here. We thought we would meet G-d in some deep meditation. But G-d wanted to meet us in a physical Mitzvah. We thought we can only find G-d in a nightly vision. But G-d wanted to be found in our daily lives.

Our ancestors meant well, but today we know better. We stay awake all night the first night of Shavuot, because we know that even if you experience the Sinai revelation in your sleep it is still only a dream, but if you find G-dliness in you conscious actions you have helped make the Sinai dream a reality.


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(pl. Mitzvot). A commandment from G-d. Mitzvah also means a connection, for a Jew connects with G–d through fulfilling His commandments.
[Hebrew pronunciation: Moshe] Greatest prophet to ever live. Led the Jews out of Egyptian bondage amidst awesome miracles; brought down the Tablets from Mount Sinai; and transmitted to us word-for-word the Torah he heard from G-d's mouth. Died in the year 1272 BCE.
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.
Early summer festival marking the day when the Jews received the Torah at Mount Sinai in the year 2448 (1312 BCE).
Third of the three Patriarchs and father of the Twelve Tribes. Lived most his life in Canaan and died in Egypt in 1505 BCE. Also known by the name of "Israel."
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.
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.