Shavuot represents the end of a time of travel and uncertainty. The Israelites who had left Egypt needed time to adjust to the initial shock of freedom – to get used to their new normal – and to start functioning as a society so they could be ready to receive Torah.
They stood at the foot of Mount Sinai and entered into a covenant, which gave them a shared sense of purpose and direction.
Shavuot is inescapably connected to gathering; whether at the foot of Mount Sinai, later at the Temple in Jerusalem as people brought their first fruits on the festival, or today when thousands still gather at the Western Wall for prayers after a long night of study.
When Torah describes the moment of revelation at Sinai, it describes that the covenant was made with all the people standing there and also with all those who were not there.
Midrash to the book of Exodus explains this to mean the souls of all Israel were at Sinai, even of those not yet born.
This image of all Jews standing at Sinai is most often used to remind us that every Jew has an equal stake in our religious heritage, but this Shavuot, the image of everyone at Sinai has something else to offer.
Embedded in the image of everyone together at Sinai is the idea that it is possible to be spiritually present, but physically distant.
Everyone was entitled to an equal stake in the moment of receiving Torah, whether there in physical form or not.
Approaching a Shavuot when physical gathering isn’t possible, what does it mean to re-enact the receiving of Torah this year?
Since the night of the first giving of Torah, it has been understood physical absence should not be an obstacle to receiving each of our textual inheritance as Jews.
The image of everyone at Sinai is a reminder that it’s up to each of our Jewish communities to find ways to open the doors of learning and tradition to all, tradition that belongs to each of us, regardless of whether we are physically present.
We might not hear the sounds
up on the mountain so clearly this year, but I hope to still see you
Deborah Blausten is
a rabbinic student at Leo Baeck College