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The Music of Halacha: Shavuot: Making Sinai Real

I heard a story when I was a student in Yeshiva that was considered by all, except me, to be a favorite: A group of modern thinkers had met for months making a list of questions about God and Torah that they were certain would shake the foundations of the Yeshiva world. They chose the brightest of the group to go to the great yeshiva in Volozhin to see if anyone in the greatest yeshiva in the world could answer their powerful questions. Their representative spent six months studying in Volozhin in order to determine if there was anyone who could answer their earth-shattering questions. When their friend returned to them after his stay in Yeshiva, they asked him if he had any answers to the questions. “What questions? There are no questions!”


The idea was that once someone experiences true Torah study, all his questions disappear. Perhaps I had not experienced true or pure Torah study. I certainly still had questions. Despite those questions, every single time I study Torah I experience a sense of clarity that is overwhelming. When people ask me why I believe in God and Sinai, I answer because of what I experience when I study Torah! I may have questions that are unanswered, but they are insignificant compared to the joy and truth I experience when learning Torah.


I wonder whether either of these approaches, those who believe that there are no questions and those who experience the truth of Torah through its study, would satisfy Nachmanides. He has a list at the end of The Book of Commandments of Mitzvot that Maimonides forgot to include in his list of the 613 Biblical Commandments. Nachmanides lists the following as the second of the negative commandments “forgotten” by Maimonides: “Only beware for yourself and greatly beware for your soul, lest you forget the things that your eyes have beheld and lest you remove them from your heart all the days of your life, and make them known to your children and your children’s children – the day that you stood before God, your Lord, at Horeb, when God said to me, ‘Gather the people to Me and I shall let them hear My words.” (Deuteronomy 4:9-10) We are commanded to not forget the experience of standing at Sinai. We may never remove the experience from our consciousness. It is only when we remember our experience of learning directly from God that we will be able to stand up against any question or doubt.

It is not that clear that Maimonides “forgot” this negative commandment. He includes it in his letter to the Yemenite Jewish Community. He includes this as an essential part of the Mitzvah of Torah study. There is no Torah study without a clear awareness of the Sinai experience.

We do not fulfill this commandment when we declare with simple purity that there are no questions. We are enjoined, whether as a separate negative commandment, or as part of Torah study, to keep the Sinai experience alive in our minds as we study Torah. We must remember as we are studying that we experienced God directly at Sinai. We believe in Torah not because we do not have any questions or because they do not bother us, or because of the thrill of learning Torah. Our Torah study must reflect the Revelation at Sinai as a direct communication with the Giver of the Torah.

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