Progressive Judaism’s weekly opinion column
By Rabbi Sylvia Rothschild
Between Pesach and Shavuot, we count. Every evening we tick off the day that has passed, and label it – adding up the weeks and days of the Omer, building up to the moment at Sinai when the covenant between God and the Israelites was signed, the moment when Judaism might be said to be created.
It was at Sinai that the group of ex-slaves who had descended from Jacob first got to understand something about God, and it was at Sinai that they began to realise God required something from them that was more than the usual obeisance and paying off.
An association was formed with obligations and expectations on both sides. Each party began to understand that the other was far more complex and ambiguous than they had appreciated until now, that much was hidden and even more was yet to emerge.
At Sinai, the God who had spoken to the ancestors, who had battled Pharaoh with plagues and signs and wonders, who had led them in the wilderness with a pillar of cloud and a pillar of fire became something quite
different – a God of relationship and connection. And the disparate group of people with some shared stories and a collective present became united because of their experience there.
We don’t really know what happened at Sinai some three months after the people had streamed out of Egypt into an uncertain freedom. But we know that the event shaped them and it continues to shape us – the revelation at Sinai, even while the people kept their distance from the mountain, made them the commanded people of God.
We agreed to be God’s workers in the world and God agreed to be our God. Even now, we struggle to make sense of that agreement, and we constantly nuance and finesse and philosophise in our struggle to seek its meaning. We take some control where we can, so we count the days from Pesach to Shavuot, waiting to get there and to experience it again. Maybe this will be the year when we understand a little more.
• Sylvia Rothschild is rabbi of Wimbledon and District Synagogue