After Sinai 5779 – part four
After the Sinai Experience – part four
(Fri. June 14, 2019 – Sivan 11, 5779)
When the Revelation occurred at Mt. Sinai, B’nei Yisrael (the Children of Israel) were cautioned against drawing too close to the mountain. When H’Shem was present at Sinai, amidst the thunder and lightning, the status of the mountain was akin to a level of kedushah (holiness), whereby the people were compelled to keep a distance. Afterwards, when the long shofar (trumpet) blasts were sounded, the verbal barricade was lifted. Apparently, there was no inherent holiness present within the structure of Mount Sinai in and of itself. Only when H’Shem’s presence rested on the mountain, in the visible form of the spectacular firework display that surrounded His presence, were the people forbidden to draw near.
When the moral commandments are viewed as ethical values, without the concomitant acceptance that they were given by G-d, then they are subject to a condition of stasis, where they may appear impressive, like Mt. Sinai itself (even though it was not the highest of mountains) yet, without the creative potential to transform our lives.
Religion itself, may seem barren to us at times, like the landscape of Sinai, when its truths are put upon a pedestal, repeated as dogma without explanation, and upheld without inquiry. Interestingly, the Talmud itself mentions that when a soul appears, at the time of Judgment, it is asked, whether it examined the truths of wisdom by asking questions, subsequently, gaining a practical understanding, capable of being applied to one’s life (Shabbos 31a).
According to Abraham Heschel, the ultimate questions that religion claims to answer must be recovered (Heschel, G-d in Search of Man, ch. 1). Additionally, I would even venture to say that it is incumbent upon us to ask new questions; otherwise, the answers that we claim to uphold, when professing a traditional religious belief, may become disconnected from our lives, like a balloon that becomes untethered from the string in one’s hand, floating aloft in the sky.
Even so, Heschel’s way of thinking has been most challenging for me to comprehend; yet, I see the wisdom of his insight – the need to make religion relevant in one’s life. Otherwise, there is a disconnect, wherein the truths of belief and practice are not integrated into the actuality of our lives. If we lose sight of important existential questions, then religion may lose its immediacy. The burden is placed upon mankind to re-establish a connection to G-d. To make truth relevant again, by asking meaningful questions about life.