Rabbi Ryan Goldstein
West Street Shul
…And they came to the Sinai Desert and they encamped in the wilderness; and there Israel camped before the mountain. (Exodus 19:2)
... וַיָּבֹאוּ מִדְבַּר סִינַי וַיַּחֲנוּ בַּמִּדְבָּר וַיִּחַן שָׁם יִשְׂרָאֵל נֶגֶד הָהָר. (שמות יט:ב)
The festival of Shavuot celebrates the receiving of the Torah on Mount Sinai.1 The Exodus from Egypt, the splitting of the Red Sea and the many tests in the desert, culminated in the arrival of over three million Jews at the foot of this historic mountain.
Let’s try to picture the scene in our minds, remember the days before Corona? Think of a visiting Star who has come to South Africa to perform, and seats are limited to the select few who bother to camp outside hours before the performance. Think of the poor old people trying to get to their seats before being knocked down by excited youth. Think of the peak hour traffic you have to sit in just to make it on time. Think of the squashing, the shouting and ultimately the anger. And at this concert there are only a couple of thousand people. Can we even begin to imagine the total chaos at the foot of Mount Sinai? Three Million Jews?!
Interestingly though, the Torah tells us that the Children of Israel encamped by the mountain, and it uses the singular verb for encamped – Vayichan, instead of Vayachanu. Our Sages explain that at Mount Sinai there was so much peace and love for one another that the Jews were “Like one person with one heart”.2
Receiving Torah can only work when all Jews are unified and there is harmony and peace among us. Perhaps that is why the zodiac sign for the month in which Shavuot falls (Sivan) is Gemini-twins, siblings who love each other as much as they love themselves.
Let us remember that the problems and shortcomings we see in our friends and faribles we have with family members, may very well be a mirror image of our own faults and downfalls. Let’s take the lesson of Shavuot’s unity and strive to love our fellow Jew.
Talmud, Shabbat 86b; see also Rabbi Avraham Gombiner, Magen Avraham, 494:1
Midrash, Mechilta d'Rabbi Yishmael 19:2