On Tuesday night, we will revisit the time when the entire nation heard the Voice of G-d, on the holiday of Shavuos. Our Sages teach that the Jewish holidays are not merely commemoration of past events, but a time on the calendar when the same spiritual energies come into the world. This is when the Jewish nation received the Torah, and we each have the opportunity to tap into that energy, to study and receive the Torah ourselves, and to come closer to G-d.
Responding to Rabbi Dixler’s message of last week, a friend of mine pointed out that while R’ Mordechai meant to say that we may often think and act as if we don’t love each and every individual Jew — when in our heart of hearts, we do — one could have read it to say, “G-d loves and counts each one of us, although we may often think and act as if it isn’t the case!”
My friend has a point. Our Sages say that not only was the entire Nation of Israel surrounding Mt. Sinai on Shavuos, but every Jewish soul was brought there as well. In our heart of hearts, they say we know that there is a G-d who cares about and observes each one of us.
To truly demonstrate cognizance of the Divine Presence, we should conduct ourselves in private the same way we do in front of others. King David said “I have placed G-d in front of me at all times.” Rabbi Moshe Isserles, in his first gloss to Rabbi Yosef Karo’s Code of Jewish Law, explains that the way a person acts and talks when he is alone at home is, needless to say, not the same as the way he behaves in front of the Queen of England (paraphrasing, of course).
He continues: “All the more so when a person places upon his heart that the Great King, the Holy One, Blessed be He, Who fills the whole world with His glory, is standing over him and sees his actions, like it says (Jeremiah 23:24) ‘Can a man hide in secret places and I do not see him?'”
Against that standard, I don’t think anyone (save the most severely deluded) claims to be a success. Every person, at his or her own level, can afford to deepen our relationship with and understanding of the Divine. There is even a Talmudic passage telling us that this has always been true:
<< When Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai lay on his deathbed, his students asked him to bless them. He replied, “May your fear of G-d be as great as your fear of your fellow man!”
They answered him, “Rebbe. Shouldn’t our fear of G-d be greater than our fear of our fellow man?”
He replied, “Halevai! (If only!) Would it were that your fear of Him should equal your fear of flesh and blood! When a person commits a sin he is worried that someone may see him. But the fact that G-d is watching him doesn’t bother him!” >>
The Chofetz Chaim, Rabbi Yisroel Meyer Kagan, in his Biur Halacha commentary, says that in order to properly “place” G-d in front of us always, there are six separate Mitzvos enumerated by the Sefer HaChinuch, the Book of (Mitzvah) Education, which counts all 613 Commandments. These six apply at every moment: to believe in G-d, to not believe in any idolatrous “god”, to understand the Oneness of G-d, to love G-d, to fear G-d, and not to turn away from Him.
As we approach the holiday of Shavuos, this is an ideal time to reflect upon our understanding and relationship with Our Creator — and one way to do this is to think about these six Commandments. Rabbi Shai Markowitz has created a website which has articles and videos about all six. While some the material may seem advanced, the speakers are engaging, informative, and (two of the main speakers, in particular) also present the material in a way that can be appreciated by most every viewer.
May we all have a happy — and inspirational — holiday!
Rabbi Yaakov Menken
Director, Project Genesis – Torah.org