Standing at the Mountain
June 6, 2000
© 2000 Light to the Nations, Rabbi Chaim Richman - All Rights Reserved
A Message for Shavuot from the Temple Institute
The Biblical festival of Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks, begins Thursday evening.
This holiday marks the anniversary of G-d's revelation at Mount Sinai. At this
event, which changed the course of human history, the Creator bequeathed the
Torah and its commandments to Israel. Israel entered into a covenant with G-d
and received her unique, Divine mission: to sanctify the name of G-d before
the eyes of the entire world. This goal is exemplified by the commandment of
"And you shall make for Me a sanctuary, that I shall dwell among
you" (Ex. 25:8), which was actualized in the Tabernacle and later in the
First and Second Temples. For when the people of Israel dwell in the Land of
Israel according to the Torah of Israel, with the Shechina (the Divine
Presence) in their midst, it is the greatest possible sanctification of G-d.
Exactly seven weeks prior to Shavuot, on the festival of Passover, Israel
became a nation. The reality of the exodus, on the backdrop of the miracles
that attest to G-d's preeminent love for Israel, saw Israel gain her physical
freedom and national identity...as the Bible states, "Has G-d ever tried
to come to take a nation from out of the midst of another nation, with signs
and wonders, and in war, and with a strong hand and an outstretched arm, and
with great wonders, like all that the L-rd your G-d has done for you?"
The period between Passover and Shavuot is known as the "days of counting
the Omer" (the omer is a measure of barley that was brought in the Temple
on the second day of Passover). This is a period of spiritual cleansing, in
anticipation of receiving the Torah at Shavuot -- as the Bible states,
"And you shall count for yourselves, from the day following the great
Sabbath, from the day you bring the omer wave-offering; seven complete weeks
they shall be" (Lev. 23:15). Traditionally, intense spiritual longing and
introspection mark this period.
As Passover marks the physical birth of the Jewish people as a nation, so
Shavuot represents Israel's spiritual inception. For the covenant that was
forged between the Holy One and Israel, is manifest in the Bible…the
constitution of the Jewish people. When Israel reaffirms that covenant and
accepts that her destiny is unlike that of other nations, then the whole world
is elevated through her actions.
One of the focal points of that destiny rests upon the sanctity of the Land of
Israel. In fact, in many ways, Shavuot is the special holiday of the Land of
Israel. In the time of the Holy Temple, the festival of Shavuot was marked by
special Temple observances. Three particular commandments are fulfilled on
Shavuot in the Holy Temple, which emphasize the holiness of the Land: the
bringing of the omer, the special offering of the twin loaves, and most of
all, the bringing of the first fruits.
Today, while the Temple has not yet been rebuilt, what are our first fruits?
What is the status of the Land of Israel, about which the Bible testifies:
"It is a land that the L-rd your G-d seeks out constantly; the eyes of
the L-rd your G-d are on it, from the beginning of the year to the end of the
year?" (Deut. 11:12).
Many in Israel are disheartened. The situation grows more serious from day to
day. According to reliable sources, the Barak government's "peace
agreement" includes plans to implement drastic measures in the near
future, such as: The compulsory transfer of 50,000 Jews from their homes in
Judea and Samaria; the transfer of large tracts of the Jordan Valley to the
Palestinian Authority; and the complete abandonment of the Temple Mount to the
hands of the Palestinians. Our government apparently grows tired of pretending
that "the Temple Mount is in our hands…"
A hostile Palestinian state, whose objective is the destruction of Israel and
who claims Jerusalem as its capital, is no longer on the horizon. It is at our
doorstep, steadily creeping towards the Temple Mount. This bodes ill for all
to whom Jerusalem is precious.
Most seem to feel that there is no cause for alarm; after all, they point out,
the Jewish people have been through greater difficulties. But on Shavuot
night, the prevalent custom is to remain awake the entire night, studying the
holy Torah, in preparation for the morning of the Festival, when we receive it
anew, like our ancestors did at Mount Sinai. One reason for this custom of not
sleeping, is based on the Midrash which teaches that way back on that first
morning of Shavuot, the people of Israel overslept at the foot of Mount Sinai.
They had to be woken by G-d - and arrived late to the most important event of
their lives: the giving of the Torah. Thus every year we remain awake on this
night, to rectify that blunder.
This is a message of Shavuot that we must live with, here and now: We have a
G-d given constitution, a Divine manifesto...in short, a contract with G-d.
That contract is the Torah, which we, the Jewish people, have been entrusted
to keep, preserve, and bring to the world. It is in G-d and His Torah that we
are to place our trust. But we are now standing at the foot of the
mountain, fast asleep. When will we wake up? We dare not oversleep again.
Rabbi Chaim Richman
THE TEMPLE INSTITUTE JERUSALEM