Today is December 18, 2018; the
Shavuot, the second of our three major pilgrimage festivals, comes exactly 50 days after Pesach. It marks the giving of the Ten Commandments and the Torah to the entire Jewish people on Mount Sinai 3331 years ago. In Hebrew, Shavuot means “weeks” and refers to the seven weeks following the Exodus, during which the Jewish people prepared themselves to receive the Law. Sinai figures prominently with other hills and mountains in the spiritual odyssey of Israel. Abraham’s test (the sacrifice of Isaac) occurs on Mount Moriah. Elijah issues G-d’s ultimatum to the wavering Israelites on the slopes of Mount Carmel. The prophet Isaiah pictured the messenger of G-d announcing the redemption and the return to Zion form the mountain top. The psalmist King David, looking for G-d’s help, raises his eyes to the mountains. Why are hills and mountains such powerful symbols?
Apparently, says Rabbi Mordecai Schultz, in his collection, From My Father’s Vineyard, one can see and experience on the heights what cannot be seen and experienced in the valley or on the plain. While Moses was on the heights of Sinai receiving the Torah, at the foot of mountain, on ground level, the Israelites built and worshipped the Golden Calf. When life is viewed from close range and low level, it often seems pointless and planless. Only when we stand on high, apart from the maelstrom, do we discover the patterns of meaning. Stand close to an oil painting and you see a confusion of daubs of paint. Stand back and you see the artist’s creation.
Some years back, one of our members told me that while in Europe, he will climb a mountain once scaled by his father. I see in this act a metaphor for the journey of the each and every Jewish person.
Shavuot is an invitation to join our ancestors in a climb for higher meaning and the unique vantage afforded by Torah. Enjoy the view.
—Rabbi Simcha Prombaum