Celebrating Shavuos with Reb Shlomo was not only immensely inspirational for me because he would relate beautiful teachings on the deeper content of receiving the Torah but he also offered a taste of its transcendental experience. Through teachings, singing, dancing, davening and storytelling Reb Shlomo sought to recreate not just the meaning of Mt Sinai but it’s spirit as well. Truth be said in almost any Reb Shlomo learning or Shabbat experience all these elements were present. Indeed the Chidushei Harim the first Gurer Rebbe said that Matan Torah the giving of the Torah was a one time occurence but Kabbalat Hatorah the receiving of the Torah is part of a daily ongoing process. So channeling an energy that takes us to what
Reb Shlomo sometimes called “beyond the beyond” is how a true Mt Sinai Jew is suppose to engage in Torah study. This approach is not reserved for the mystics but is meant for all. The Ishbitzer Rebbe told one of his prize pupils Reb Zodak Hachoen, after the two met for the first time and engaged in Torah study, that “one who studies Torah must feel that he is standing at the foot of Mt Sinai and he is hearing the Torah from from the mouth of the all powerful one.”
The fact however is that for most of us a transcendental approach is not the norm in Torah study and so commemorating Mt Sinai annually serves as yearly reminder on how true Torah study needs to be learned and experienced . The busyness of life with its daily deadlines along with all our practical pressing needs do not allow us to easily enter into such a consciousness most of the time. It is important however to remember that learning Torah is not just about a process of imparting or receiving information but it must touch and challenge one deeply enough to find a take away from it that can alter or enhance our life.
Radical outside of the box thinking that awakens something deep within us permeates many of Reb Shlomo’s teachings. It figures that on a holiday like Shavuos the spiritual expansiveness with which he taught would requires us to broaden our vessels to receive a transcendental all inclusive consciousness. I want to share a Shavuos teaching of his that I came across a few years ago that illustrates important lessons that I feel, reveals the broadness of his perspective of what the essences of a Mr Sinai Jew truly is.
Reb Shlomo notes that in the Torah right after the 10 Commandments were given the next verse reads “and all the people saw the Sounds, Flames and the Sound of the Shofar.” Reb Shlomo explains that these 3 categorizations of what the people saw obviously refers to a deeper vision that was revealed at the culmination of revelation. I will from memory and my own reflections attempt to construct a message that I believe Reb Shlomo wants to convey to us in his analysis of the vision the Children of Israel saw.
The "Sounds" he says refers to revelation at Mt Sinai hearing the thunderous Divine Sound of the 10 Commandments being proclaimed. The "Flames" refers to a burning fire which Reb Shlomo suggests was a vision of the fires of the Holocaust and other fires throughout our history that sought to destroy our people. The "Sound of the Shofar" he says refers to sound of the Shofar of Moshiach, signifying redemption.
Revelation oppression and redemption encapsulates the three major themes that dominate all of Jewish spiritual history. He noted that there are Jews that are solely engrossed in their spirituality through the glory of Mt Sinai and can’t relate to the horrors of the holocaust or experience the vision of redemption in their spiritual consciousness. Their inability to deal with the challenges and opportunities that define the Jewish experience sharply limits their impact and potential as the Jewish people continue to evolve throughout history. Others can’t get past the nightmare of the Holocaust in defining their Judaism. A recent PEW study showed that the overwhelming majority of American Jews identify remembering the Holocaust as the most essential characteristic in being Jewish. While respect for the memory of those that perished is a most admirable quality, it cannot sustain the life of a religion. Other Jews can only relate to spiritual practice in its idyllic futuristic vision. Such an idealistic view of religion is most laudatory but its inability to incorporate the pain of Jewish suffering and the glory of its rich past leaves it terribly lacking in relating to the full historic experience what it means to be a Jew.
A Mt Sinai Jew is one whose vision pierces into the depth of the entire Jewish experience and shows deep sensitivity to its glorious past, as well as its painful periods, all the while visioning and striving for a futuristic redemption. These 3 quintessential stages in the Jewish experience could/should be viewed as both coexisting concurrently in our spiritual consciousness and part of a historical dialectical evolution.
Clearly creating such a wholistic spiritual experience is no easy matter and would probably be challenging for all of us. It is interesting to note that Reb Shlomo’s novel interpretation of the above quote is followed by the phrase “and the mountain was smoking; the people saw, they were shaken and they stood from afar.” The imagery of the mountain smoking can of course metaphorically be interpreted in many different ways. I would like to suggest that based on the text that follows it can be understood as referring to a clouded vision where uncertainty and lack of clarity are part of the hallowed divine ground. The verse concludes with the children of Israel being 'shaken' and 'standing from afar.' At times impacting moments shake us out of our comfort zone into an unknown that forces us to step back from our preconceived understanding. The narrative of revelation concludes with the verse, "The people stood from afar and Moshe approached the thick of the cloud where G-d is".
The full impact of divine revelation serves as a humbling reminder that on the highest level even for Moshe Rabbeinu G-d is not knowable. Whatever our comfort zone of Divine understanding may be we should embrace it but we should also embrace Divine manifestations that challenge what is safe for us and lies beyond our comprehension. Faith aided by transcendence can help us navigate spiritual terrain that may feel alien to us. Praying, hoping, mediatating and visioning are some of the tools of transcendence that can allow us to enter into what may appear to us as less accessable parts of the trifolded experience that Reb shlomo is speaking about. I think Reb Shlomo is telling us that understanding with clarity the spirituality that speaks to us is the sacred safe ground upon which to create a spiritual launcing pad to travel into a higher spiritual startasphere: where if we utilize a transcendental like consciousness of Revelation we will amid the thick of the cloud observe glimpses and visions of divine voices calling out to to us to broaden our vision of all that is divine.
May we blessed this Shavuos and truly every day of our life to feel comforted by the spirtuality we know and to also experience a spirituality that reaches to that which is not knowable. What I miss most in my Torah study is those "beyond the beyond' moments Reb Sholmo would take us to that were both most comforting and challenging. I bless us all to rediscover the Torah on Shavuos and every day from that highest and most inspiring space.