Back to the Present
By Rabbi Pinchas Avruch
"G-d said to the Jewish Nation: My children, you read the Torah narrative
of the Giving of the Torah every year and I will give you merit as if you
stood at Mount Sinai and accepted the Torah, as it says, 'On this day, they
arrived at the Wilderness of Sinai.' (Shemos/Exodus 19:1)" (Yalkut Shimoni,
Yisro 271) How are we to understand this Divine instruction? How does this
process accomplish anything?
Michtav Me'Eliyahu (collected writings and discourses of Rabbi Eliyahu
Dessler (1891-1954) of London and B'nai Brak, one of the outstanding
personalities and thinkers of the Mussar movement) explains that the "merit"
is G-d's credit based on His celestial estimation of our actions, His
evaluation of our service from a spiritual perspective. Furthermore, the
perception that we stood at Mount Sinai is actually to be understood
literally, as the verse states, "on THIS day." But if it is meant literally,
why is it not stated literally? Why does the Yalkut state "as IF you stood
at Mount Sinai"? It needs to be expressed in detached terms because such a
phenomenon - that the reading of the Torah's description of the Revelation
at Sinai IS a reliving of that most profound experience TODAY - is
unfathomable to the human.
Rabbi Dessler compares this to Rashi's explanation of a difficult verse in
the Torah. Bamidbar/Numbers 3:1 implies that Aaron's sons were also
considered to be Moshe's children. Rashi explains that one who teaches his
friend's son Torah is given the merit by the Torah as if he bore him. Rabbi
Simcha Zissel Ziv ("The Alter of Kelm"; 1824-1898; One of the foremost
disciples of Rabbi Yisrael Salanter, founder of the Mussar movement, he
founded and led the famous Mussar yeshiva, the Talmud Torah of Kelm,
Lithuania) elucidates that the physical connection between a father and son
is insubstantial. The core of "fatherhood" is not the contribution of mere
chromosomes that generate the physical body. The essence of life that a
father gives his son is the spirit and passion and values, the conveyance of
the father's true self to his child. Therefore, in the Torah's evaluation,
one's student is truly his child. But again the Torah uses the construction
"he is given the merit...as if" because this perspective of the father-son
relationship is not one with which people readily identify.
So too here, concludes Rabbi Dessler, we are to approach the Festival of
Shavuos with the appreciation that our spiritual essence IS standing at the
foot of Mount Sinai, and our reading of the narrative is a real-time,
real-life recreation of those events 3315 years ago. With this, our
acceptance of the Torah on this day will be as real on this day as it was
How do we, thousands of years later in a place thousands of miles away,
The first step is appreciating that time is not linear. In another essay,
Rabbi Dessler delves into why the festivals are referred to as the TIME of
our joy (Succos), the TIME of our freedom (Pesach) and the TIME of our
receiving the Torah (Shavuos). Therein lies the implication that there is a
return to a previous time. Indeed, Rabbi Dessler explains that time is a
circle in which we travel. There is a "one week circle", and every Shabbos
(Sabbath) we find ourselves returning to the Shabbos position in the circle.
The spiritual connection and renewal that are Shabbos are waiting at that
position for us to come back to it. There is also an "annual circle", and
every Shavuos is really the same festival to which we return year after
year. We are not commemorating an ancient event of significance in our
national history. Rather, we return to that position in the circle of time
where we are yet again infused with the strength to accept the Torah anew.
Have a Good Shabbos!
Copyright © 2003 by Rabbi Pinchas Avruch and Project Genesis, Inc.
Kol HaKollel is a publication of the Milwaukee Kollel Center for Jewish
Studies 5007 West Keefe Avenue; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; 414-447-7999