Shavuot is the holiday which commemorates the giving of that gift to the Jewish people. According to Jewish tradition, God offered it to all of mankind, but they refused to accept it. They weren’t ready to be bound by its laws or to be guided by its values. So that’s part of the reason why the world is in the shape that it is, still far from having reached its potential for peace, for love, and for messianic fulfilment.
The Torah was given primarily not for our information but for our transformation – and in order to be truly transformed by ideals we need role models, stories of those who succeeded in order to inspire us and stories of those whose failures serve as warning against wasted lives and legacies of evil.
There is a heavy price to be paid when society turns its celebrities into role models and – perhaps for want of true examples – ignores heroes of character, of virtue and of ethical nobility. The power of Torah on our lives and the lives of our children is the strength of example, the influence of the giants of our past to shape the dreams and the aspirations of our future. The narratives of the Torah are the necessary illustrations for the possibility of its fulfilment.
Torah is not a list of do’s and don’ts but a thrilling history of great men and women, of our patriarchs and our matriarchs, of Moses and of Aaron, and of common people who when the world said they can’t, confidently responded that they could – and that they would.
The rabbis have a fascinating image for the moment when we received the greatest gift of history. The midrash tells us God lifted the mountain over our heads. One of the most beautiful interpretations is that the purpose was to create a symbolic chuppah, the bridal canopy used to sanctify a marriage. Sinai was a marriage made in heaven linking us metaphorically to God as husband and wife.
It is a marriage we continue to celebrate every Shavuot. We treasure the Torah He entrusted to us at that time. We thank Him as well for giving us the opportunity to challenge ourselves to live up to our potential for greatness – because that is why we do not lack for role models and magnificent heroes.