Parashat Shabbat Shavuot: The giving of the Decalogue: Exodus 19 and 20

For Shabbat May 26, 2023

This Shabbat the regular cycle of Torah readings is interrupted as we are celebrating the festival of Shavuot, the giving of the “Ten Words” to Moses and the Israelites. Shavuot, from the Hebrew meaning ‘seven,’ comes seven weeks after the beginning of Passover. In the biblical world the holiday was part of the agricultural cycle, and the gifts of the barley harvest were brought to Jerusalem. Later the Sages recognized that this is the time when God revealed the divine reality to our desert people, and offered the teachings of the Ten Commandments. In our modern day, we study on this holy day, and discover the meaning of revelation and our commitment to the mitzvot in the Torah. To be sure, after the experience of Sinai, our people would never be the same, and the revelation would influence all of western civilization for the future.

Centuries later, Saadiah, the leader of the Babylonian Jews (in the 9th century C.E.) wrote: our people is a people only be virtue of our possession of the Torah. To possess the Torah meant to be possessed by it! Torah is the essence of Jewish life. Of course, from the five books of Torah, many more books were added—namely the Prophets and the Holy Writings (the 2nd and 3rd portions of our Hebrew Bible). From a traditional perspective, all the later books, the Mishna and Gemara, the Responsa and Midrashic volumes are part of the “giving” of the Torah to our people. So we are exhorted to study these great works, as the Mishna reminds us, “the merit of Torah study is equal to all the commandments.”  Join us this Friday evening as we celebrate the giving of the Torah!

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