There are particular sacred texts of Jewish Tradition that I make a point of reviewing at least on an annual basis. These tend to be teachings and insights that not only appeal to my mind and intellect, but also resonate deeply within the chambers of my heart and the crevices of my soul. One such selection always comes to mind as we prepare for the Festival of Shavuot, which actually has several other fascinating names in Jewish Tradition.
These names include:
1) “Chag Habikurim” or the “Holiday of the First Fruits.;
2) “Chag HaKatzir,” the “Harvest Festival”;
3) “Atzeret,” which means “The Stoppage,” a reference likely related to the end of the counting of the Omer; And finally,
4) “Zeman Matan Torahteynu,” the “Time of the Giving of Our Holy Torah.”
The text, drawn from the Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Shabbat 88b and 89a, reads as follows:
“And Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Levi said: When Moses ascended on High to receive the Torah, the ministering angels said before the Holy One, Blessed be God: Master of the Universe, what is one born of a woman doing here among us? The Holy One, Blessed be God, said to them: He came to receive the Torah….The angels replied: The only rightful place for God’s majestic gift, the Torah, is in the heavens [with us, your ministering angels]”.
The Talmud then goes on to tell us that God turned to Moses and asked Moses to justify why he, a mortal, should merit receipt of God’s treasured teaching.
“…So Moses said before God: Master of the Universe, the Torah that You are giving me, what is written in it? God said to him: “I am the Lord your God Who brought you out of Egypt from the house of bondage” (Exodus 20:2). Moses said to the angels: Did you descend to Egypt? Were you enslaved to Pharaoh? Why should the Torah be yours?
I love this text because it reminds us that the Torah, which we believe our people received on Shavuot and which we receive anew each year at this season, is a Torah for human beings, not angelic beings. God’s most precious gift, one which the Kabbalists teach us in the Zohar (as well as in several other places in Rabbinic Literature) was actually the blueprint for the Creation of the entire Cosmos, takes into consideration that we are corporeal. We are flesh and blood. We are finite, limited and flawed. And yet, God entrusts the gift of Torah to us because God has tenacious and unflagging faith, Emunah, that it is within our mortal power to live by the wisdom and discipline contained within this holiest of tomes.
May we — beings of flesh and blood — be inspired by Shavuot to merit living by this Etz Chayim, this Tree of ever renewing Life, and the Lekah Tov, our precious legacy and thus help our world move ever closer to healing, wholeness and holiness. Amen!
Rabbi Carnie Shalom Rose is The Rabbi Bernard Lipnick Senior Rabbinic Chair at Congregation B’nai Amoona.