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Shir ha-Shirim XIV: Sefirah 17

Rabbi Yochanan interpreted the verse as applying to Israel when they went up to Mount Sinai. It was as if a king wanted to marry a wife of good and noble family, so he sent an envoy to speak with her. She said: “I am not worthy to be his handmaid, but all the same I desire to hear from his own mouth.” When the envoy returned to the King, he was full of smiles, but he would give no clear report to the King (lest the king should regard her request as belittling his Majesty). The king, who is very discerning, said: “This man is full of smiles, which would show that she consented, and he does not give any clear report, which would seem to show that she said that she wants to hear from my own mouth.”


Israel is the one man of good family, Moshe is the envoy, and the King is God. On that occasion, “And Moshe reported the words of the people to God (Exodus 19:8).” What then is the point of the words, “And Moshe told the words of the people to God (Verse nine)?” The fact is that since it says, “Lo, I come to you in a thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak to you, and may also believe you for ever,” therefore, “Moshe told the words of the people to God,” he said to Him, “This was their request.” God replied: “People tell a child what he wants to hear.” (Shir Hashirim Rabbah 1.2:3, Part One)

“People tell a child what he wants to hear.” God manifested His essence to the Children of Israel because they insisted that, although unworthy of In, they wanted to hear from Is own mouth. As the midrash continues: Rabbi Pinchas said in the name of Rabbi Levi: It was manifest to God that Israel would subsequently exchange His glory for another, as it says, “They exchanged their glory for the likeness of an ox that eats grass (Psalms 106:20).” Therefore, He left them no excuse for sending, “If He had shown us His glory and His greatness we would have believed in Him, but now that He has not shown us His glory and His greatness, we do not believe in In, to confirm what the Scripture says, “And entered not into judgment with Your servant (Psalms 143:2).” (Part Two)

The midrash begins as Israel asking God to directly reveal His essence as an expression of love. Yet, it concludes by explaining that God chose to honor their request only to preempt any form of justification after the sin of the Golden Calf. Are we to understand that Revelation was not an expression of love but a preemption of some sort of defense?

This story is of a bride who feels unworthy of her husband. She cannot believe that the great King would be interested in her. Her request to he hear the king speak directly to her was not an expression of love, by of her insecurity. She did not take the proposal as an indication of her potential and her greatness; she doubted herself and questioned the proposal.

Yes, Israel didn’t want a direct relationship with God, how ever their acceptance of His proposal, through His envoy, Moshe, what is in fear and hesitation caused by their lack of faith in themselves. A relationship that the man’s greatness cannot begin with one party perceiving itself as being unworthy of the relationship. Therefore, God offered Israel the gift of Revelation, to assure them that they were worthy of this relationship, all the while knowing that eventually their insecurity would cause them to reject His glory for that of an ox.

We cannot approach Shavuot with insecurity. We must approach with the confidence that if we access all that is possible on this day, we will become greater human beings, worthy of a direct relationship with God.

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