Dayenu on Shavuot
We just celebrated Shavuot this week, with so many friends and in such a great community atmosphere. It reminded me of how the Jewish unity was described at the time we received the Torah.
Let me take a step back. During the Passover Seder we sing the famous Dayenu song where we express our gratitude to G-d for taking us out of Egypt and making us a free people to serve Him.
Rather than focusing on the hardships we experienced and any grievances, the song is full of praise and gratitude. In a series of stanzas we say things like "had G-d only taken us out, but not punished the Egyptians, Dayenu - that would have been sufficient." And on and on.
But there is one curious stanza where we say "had He brought us to Mt. Sinai and not giving us the Torah - Dayenu - that would have been sufficient."
What does that mean? Of what value is there to come to Mt. Sinai without receiving the Torah there?
The answer lies in the Torah's description of the Israelites camping at Mt. Sinai. "And Israel encamped there opposite the mountain," the verse says, surprisingly using a singular term when describing the plurality of the Israelites.
This is precisely the point; when we came to the mountain we were "like one person with one heart." There was such a great feeling of love and brotherhood, that we can sing Dayenu - it was worth coming to Sinai, just to experience that unity. And it was that great sense of unity that enabled us to receive the Torah.
In our beautiful community we are blessed to have different Jews of very different backgrounds all coming together to learn, pray and celebrate in unity. It's something very unique to our small Jewish community and I cherish it.
The Torah Belongs To You
One of my favorite holidays is Shavuot. It commemorates the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai amidst G-ds revelation to Jewish people 3334 years ago.
Being able to celebrate and live these traditions with our beautiful community in South Dakota is especially meaningful.
First we study all night long (or for as long as we can!) from after dinner until dawn (to “fix” the fact that our ancestors slept peacefully the night before they received the Torah instead of staying up in preparation and anticipation).
The next day we read the 10 Commandments in a traditional religious service. During the two day holiday we enjoy a variety of dairy goodies, like cheesecakes, icecreams, lasagna, pizza and more (to remember the laws of Kosher that were given that day, and the short time the people had to prepare their meat and dairy).
There is a beautiful midrashic teaching that describes a conversation between G-d and the people of Israel before He gave them the Torah:
G-d asked for a guarantee that the Israelites will not forsake the Torah. At first they said “heaven and the earth shall be our guarantors,” but G-d refused. Then they said, “our saintly ancestors will be the guarantors,” but G-d again refused. Only when they finally said “our children will guaranteeit,” did G-d agree to give the Torah.
This has been the secret to Jewish continuity during the three millennia since we received the Torah. We have carefully taught it to our children. When we made sure that our youth were educated, in the way of the Torah, they in turn lived and taught it to their children.
The first verse a Jewish child learns to say is “Torah tzvia lanu moshe morasha kehilat yaakov,” which means “the Torah that Moses commanded us is the heritage of all Jewish people.” We teach our children from day one that this beautiful Torah and all its sacred teachings, is theirs! They own it.
Our Sages tell us that the souls of every Jewish person was present at Mt. Sinai. Every single Jewish woman, man and child. Those already born, and those born later. The beauty of this is that the Torah was given and belongs to each of us equally. No one Jew can claim she or he has more rights to it than the other.
This year, let us strengthen our Torah learning and education. Let us live its holy teachings with pride and joy. And let us teach them and pass them on to our children.
Now, like then, they are the only guarantee for a vibrant Jewish future.
Rabbi Mendel Alperowitz Blog
Serving the spiritual needs of the South Dakota Jewish community. Based in Sioux Falls and travels the state.