Shavuot: Awe vs. Love of God: Part Five
Transcribed by Daniel Goldman from a shiur delivered on 18 May 1999: But that’s not a relationship that begins with Yir’ah, Awe. That’s a relationship that begins with Love. A relationship that begins with Love ends up not being a real relationship, because I don’t see the person as the person is. That’s why a relationship that begins with effatuation usually doesn’t lead anywhere. It ends pretty quickly because it’s not a real relationship. God wanted a real relationship. But for some reason it didn’t work. I suspect that God knew that.
So, at the first Shavuot, God told Adam, “This is my agenda. We will begin with Awe. You have to understand. You are insignificant. You are nothing. I speak, you’re dead. Therefore, your search for a relationship is a search for significance, and for life.” Needless to say, it didn’t last in the Garden, and it didn’t last on Sinai. On Shavuot, we have the opportunity to develop the relationship the correct way. Even if it isn’t permanent. It begins with a sense of not knowing who we are and ends with the knowledge that the only way I will have a real sense of significance is through my attachment to God.
Ruth has no sense of self. Not because she thought she was insignificant, but she hadn’t yet discovered her significance. She was open to reality. Ruth could be so sensitive to all the details around her. What kind of human being does it take to be so invisible that when Naomi says to her, “you go down, you get dressed…etc.,” what she is actually saying, “I will go down, I will get dressed…etc.” Yet that’s how it is written. Ruth had the capacity to make herself so invisible because she had yet to discover her significance. We see that in Esther as well. Ruth is tzanua, as is Esther. But let’s go back to the Garden.
Question: Why weren’t the Jews at Sinai able to hold on to this relationship?
RSW: I have this horrible surprise for you. You taste it and you can’t hold on to it because of your human limitations. At the moment you realize that you always fail. Where are you? Are you at Love or are you at Awe? Where are you when you say, “I can’t do it!”? It is then that you have real Awe. You are at the invisible Awe. This is so important. And it is so subtle. “It didn’t work in Eden, it didn’t work at Sinai, I’ll try to do it on Shavuot, but it probably won’t last.” What do you sense after all that? – a feeling of insignificance. “I can’t do it!” That is Awe. Here is something so real, yet I can’t achieve it. That is the real Awe.
That is what you get on Shavuot. It’s the awareness that Adam and Eve failed at the same thing. This not something I can do on my own. So what are you searching for? If you have really experienced this, you’re desperate for a relationship. But we don’t know what real Awe is. As the Gemara says, “Everything is in the hands of heaven, except for yiraat Shamayim.” What does that mean? God can do a very good job of filling me with Awe.