As we enter into the holiday of receiving theTorah, on the festival of Shavuot, we need to engage in the same type of spiritual preparation there was at the foot of Mount Sinai.
The Torah was, in fact, not actually given to the Israelites on that day. After the awesome revelation of the Ten Statements, Moshe went up for forty days and descended on the 17th day of Tamuz with the Torah. He broke the tablets upon seeing the fall of the Jewish people. After forty days, he went up again for another forty-day period, finally descending on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.
This fact implies that the festival of Shavuot represents not the giving of the Torah, but rather represents the Jewish people's resolve to stand at the foot of the mountain and to receive it. To have the courage and resolve to enter into an eternal covenant of obedience to G-d's direction . Shavuot represents the wedding of the Jewish people to their Creator. G-d is seen as the groom beckoning His bride, the people of Israel, to stand under His Cloud-Huppah covering and to accept His marriage contract (Ketubah) , His Torah.
The joy of this festival is a function of the simple fact that this people agreed to enter into that relationship and to come under His Huppa.
Yet all this occurs in the midst of fire and billowing clouds.
"And Moshe went up to the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. And the Glory of Hashem rested on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days, and He called to Moshe on the seventh day from within the cloud."(Exodus 24:15-16)
After the dramatic and clear perception and experience of His glory at the revelation on Mount Sinai, Hashem returns into the covering of the cloud. Why would that be so?
We read the following in the Torah portion of Nasso that may help us receive some understanding of that question:
“Hashem spoke to Moshe saying: Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying: This is how you shall bless the children of Israel, saying to them: “May Hashem bless you and watch over you. May Hashem cause His countenance to shine to you and favor you. May Hashem raise His countenance toward you and grant you peace.(Numbers 5:23-26)
During the recitation of the Priestly benediction both the Kohanim and the congregants cover their faces and upper torsos with a Prayer Shawl.
The classical explanation for this was that since the Divine Presence would rest "above and between the hands of the Kohanim." looking at them might cause the eyes to become "dim". (Talmud, Chagigah 16a.). That may have been a real issue in the time of the Temple when Hashem’s Presence was so vivid and palpable, but according to most of the sages that is not the relevant factor in our times.
On the other hand that “Dimming of Vision” may still be a real and pressing issue even in our times. To understand this we must re-examine the concept of one's vision becoming "Dim".
Sometimes our vision is so focused on what we physically see that we lose the ability to see beyond. These Kohanim (Priests) were not the ones blessing us. If our sight was focused on them we might lose awareness of that important fact.
As Hashem continues to declare in the text the following;
They shall bestow My Name upon the children of Israel, so that I will bless them.” (Numbers 5:23-27).
The Kohanim were meant to be a vehicle, a message, a statement and nothing more. The mistake of assuming that the Kohanim were somehow the source of blessing is the ultimate dimming of our vision.
Yet beyond that cautionary aspect, that covering of the prayer shawl has become that warm place of “receiving and of inner peace. My earliest childhood memories of holiness were involved in standing under my father's prayer shawl during the blessing of the Kohanim. My continuing experience of eternal blessing is having my children and grandchildren under my prayer shawl still today.
That is the power of a "covering"
That is the lesson for the Mount Sinai experience as well. What the Israelites 'saw' could have destroyed their ability to acquire the "vision" - to truly see.
The revelation at Mount Sinai was so incredible that it frightened the people.
"And all the people saw the voices and the torches, the sound of the shofar, and the smoking mountain, and the people saw and trembled; so they stood from afar."(Exodus 20:15)
In the book of Deuteronomy we hear their fears;
“Now therefore why should we die? For this great fire will consume us; if we hear the voice of Hashem our G-d any more, then we shall die..... You go near, and hear all that Hashem our G-d may say; and you shall speak unto us all that Hashem our G-d may speak unto you; and we will hear it and do it.' " (Deuteronomy 5:21-23)
It is then that Hashem tells Moshe;
“And Hashem heard the voice of your words, when you spoke unto me; and Hashem said unto me: 'I have heard the voice of the words of this people, which they have spoken unto you ; they have well said all that they have spoken. Oh that they had such a heart as this always, to fear Me, and keep all My commandments, that it might be well with them, and with their children for ever!"(ibid 24-25)
We are living in a world wherein certain religions espouse easy solutions and simplified relationships. While it is true that that G-d is a loving Father, but He is also the reigning King.
“Love of G-d “without “fear of G-d” quickly becomes” love of self”. On the other hand, “fear of G-d” without “love of G-d” becomes simply “fear of punishment.”
Hashem is telling Moshe that a healthy relationship with the Divine involves a delicate balance of Awe and Love.
It is all about the “cloud” that both embraces and separates.
After the dramatic encounter with the vision of G-d, Moshe had to enter the clouds that covered that mount. For only within the delicately balanced relationship expressed by the clouds can Hashem be truly comprehended.
This is so soulfully expressed in the haunting words of singer Shuli Rand’s song Arafel;
"now is the time
to step into the misty cloud..
for there... for there
for only there G-d is found."
Lerefuat Kol HaPtzuim ve Hacholim
Lerefuat Yehudit bat Golda Yocheved and Yehudit bat Chaya Esther
Rabbi Moshe Kempinski, author of "The Teacher and the Preacher", is the editor of the Jerusalem Insights weekly email journal and co-owner of Shorashim, a Biblical shop and learning center in the Old City of Jerusalem.