May/June 2024

That the People Israel accepted the Torah collectively and willing embraced it, is axiomatic.          "Na'asseh V'nishma"...indicates that the Israelites accepted all the terms of this covenant unconditionally! This acceptance bound all future generations of our people and Shavuot celebrates this ratification of the covenant, conceiving of it as a "marriage" between God and Israel. However, Midrash suggests that this was no free - will choice; Israel was coerced - and if that was the case - then those who fail to comply cannot be held accountable! We often imagine that free-will implies a universe of limitless choices. A vast number of options are available to us, and we can freely choose from among them. But, as one sage remarked - too much choice is no choice at all. People are easily overwhelmed by the many, various options available. Therefore, freedom must presuppose restrictions. Just like a violin string which is not tied down tightly cannot produce music; but when fastened securely at both ends can produce exquisite melody - so too - the Israelites require limits, boundaries, ties, and structure.


Genuine choice means being tied down to clearly defined options; the divinely ordained options within which the Israelites can freely choose; a limited sphere with boundaries all around wherein one is free to live one's life. Sinai was no multiple-choice exam; where one might pick and choose which commandments they wanted and how and when to observe them. Rather, it was a "package deal". It was a matter of YES or NO. In a sense, the choice was coerced! Like the sacred covenant of marriage which is valid only if both parties enter the agreement of their own free will, once concluded, sanctified, and sealed under the canopy - nuptial CHUPPAH – free - will choices cease to be valid. Other partners are now forbidden.


Tellingly, Hebrew garments/ clothing (Tallit or - "the four corners") include many cords and knots signifying our strong attachment to our covenant and to one another. We are tied to a tradition. The 4 corners represent the legendary "Dalet cubits" or boundaries within which we are to conduct our lives. Our Sages imagined our lives to be a vital element of a living, braided chord of humanity - each individual strand stretching back millennia. In this "garden of life" our horizons/boundaries are framed by fragrant, floral hedges; these being the limits/perimeters/boundaries within which we must exist.  Phylacteries (T'Fillin) similarly symbolize our attachments; we are "Linked-In". Heart, hand, and head are joined in a strong attachment/binding which is to be carefully fastened each morning upon waking. These emblems represent and reenact the moment and meaning of Sinai - which we call Shavuot. Mo'adim L'Simcha! Chagim L'sasson!