Shavuot, the celebration of the gift of Torah, begins this Saturday night. After forty-nine long days of counting from Pesach, we have arrived at the moment of revelation at Mt. Sinai. There are many traditional texts to study on Shavuot: the Ten Commandments, the Book of Ruth, or Pirkei Avot. All of these texts are worthwhile, but I would like to draw our attention to the context of this great revelatory moment—it happens in the Wilderness. The gift of Torah is not given in the Land of Israel, not in Jerusalem, nor on Mt. Zion. Instead, the Torah is given in a place that could be anywhere. Though many believe they know the location of Mt. Sinai, no one can be certain. The beauty of Torah and the scene at Mt. Sinai is that it places holiness outside of the Land of Israel.
The location of God’s revelation is a message for us—Jews living comfortably outside of the Land—Torah, like us, is part of our experience in the Wilderness. The heart of the Jewish people is our collective story, our Torah. Yes, we are a people connected to our land, but we only know about that connection because of our connection with God and with the Torah. Jewish life in America is built on this Mt. Sinai moment and we are Mt. Sinai Jews. Yet, we are also still a people connected to a land—the Land of Zion. In Zion, we found what it means to be a nation. In Zion, we put the Torah (Mt. Sinai) into day-to-day action.
Today, we are Jews split between two mountains: Mt. Sinai and Mt. Zion. On the one hand, we celebrate our Jewish life in the “wilderness” of America. Like our ancestors who received manna from heaven each day on their journey from Egypt to the Land of Israel, we too lack for very little in America. On the other hand, the journey of our people millennia ago was never intended to end in the desert. Our covenant with God is inextricably linked with the Land of Israel. Mt. Zion is an inescapable part of our identity.
This Shavuot, let us dwell on our many identities. We are Mt. Sinai Jews, comfortably situated in the wilderness. At the same time, we are also Mt. Zion Jews, always facing eastward to the Promised Land. This internal struggle has been part of what it means to be a Jew for thousands of years, and it is what gives us strength. We gain wisdom from Sinai and experience Zion. May we always find ourselves looking at these heights for our guidance.
Please join your clergy at Congregation Dor Tamid for Shavuot service and study on Saturday night at 6:00pm.