Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Talmud Shabbat 88: G - d covered the Jews with Har Sinai


Photo: Miriam Woelke


In Israel, Shavuot is over but the Diaspora is still celebrating the holiday until tomorrow (Thursday) night an. 
When we talk about SHAVUOT (Translation: Weeks) then we usually refer to the giving of the Torah and anything related to Torah. The Talmud provides us with quite a few interesting insights about what happened at Har Sinai (Mount Sinai).

The Talmud Tractatc Shabbat 88a lists a few teachings which have their roots in aggadaic literature. One of the most famous teachings is that G - d covered the Jews with Har Sinai. The Talmud commentator Maharsha stated that the Jews were actually inside the mountain. The Talmud continues by quoting G - d: "If you accept the Torah, fine. But if not, your burial will be there !"

When we look at this teaching we should have in mind that Aggadot and the Talmud many times use a symbolic language. Teaching us in metaphors and this is why it is so important to study Midrashim, Talmud and Aggadah with a professional teacher and / or with many different commentators in order to understand the true message. 

How can G - d lift up the mountain and the Jews and cover the Jews ? And why did G - d use this method when the Jews had already announced that they were ready to accept the Torah ? Why did G - d use such force ?

Parts of the answers we find in Talmudic and Kabbalistic teachings. When G - d started talking to the Jews, every Jew heard His voice in his soul. The result was shocking, as the Jews couldn't grasp the direct voice of G - d. What happened was that their souls temporarily left their bodies. There is a teaching that at this very moment, the Jews died but, at the same time, G - d caused them to be resurrected. Afterwards, G - d spoke to Moshe only. 

The Tosafot commentate that maybe this shocking experience may have caused the Jews to change their minds and thus, G - d decided to force the Jews to accept the Torah.

The Midrash, on the other hand, commentates that the Jews were willing to accept the Torah and its Mitzvot regarding Eretz Israel but were not too excited accepting the Torah Mitzvot for the Diaspora. This only happened many years later in Babylon; in the days of Esther and Mordechai (see also the RAMBAN).

The Maharal of Prague states that if the Jews had changed their minds and refused accepting the Torah, the world would have returned to its pre - creation state of TOHU. Meaning: If the Jews had said that they don't want the Torah, G - d may have destroyed our world and have returned everything to Tohu. 

Remark: Kabbalah defines the "World of Tohu" as a non - existing physical world but as a kind of world only existing in G - d's thoughts.

Photo: M. Day

Now we have to ask ourselves whether G - d didn't take away the "Free Will" of the Jews when He forced them to accept the Torah. On the other hand, He obviously left them a choice but not such a positive one.


Part 2 is going to follow tomorrow !

I admit that those teaching are rather complicated and not easy to understand. I just hope that I am expressing myself, more or less, clear.

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