Yitro - A Revelation of Love

It was 1978, and I was tormented by an internal dilemma. Both daughters had chosen on their own to prepare for Bat Mitzvah, and I, I did not know why. Nothing in my Jewish upbringing had given me an answer to the fundamental question—why be Jewish. No experience in synagogue had given me a clue as to why the rituals and rites of reading Torah compelled Jews to pass this on, generation to generation, for over three thousand years.

Here I was, shlepping the girls to Sunday School and Hebrew School three times a week, in addition to the dance lessons and the music lessons, and of course, their younger brother’s soccer practice. I resented every minute of it. Almost.

There was a nagging at the back of my mind. A voice that said, “We Jews are a very intelligent people. There must be something here that I haven’t seen.”

The Spanish philosopher and poet, Yehudah HaLevi, addressed this question in his famous book, The Kuzari, written in 1110 CE. Yehudah lived in Spain in an age when Islam and Christianity were the dominant religions, and he set out to demonstrate that Judaism was, indeed, a superior religion. His argument was basically this: Christianity’s basis is the prophecy of one man, Jesus. Islam’s basis is also the prophecy given to one man, Mohammed. But Judaism’s basis, the revelation on Mt. Sinai, was given simultaneously to the entire Jewish people, hundreds of thousands of people whose lives were changed forever by a spiritual experience that all witnessed and felt. Says Yehudah, who could make up a story such as that and get away with it?

I, too, felt that something must have really happened thousands of years ago. And that there must be something that I had missed, something that kept Jews practicing Judaism these millennia later.

This week’s Torah portion, Yitro, describes in detail the extraordinary experience of the revelation on Mt. Sinai. Ex 20:14: V’chol ha’am ro-im et hakolot v’et halapidim v’et kol hashofar. “ And all the people see the voices (that is, the thunder) and the lightning and the voice of the shofar horn… And then God spoke.

The people were awed and frightened, but more than that, they were were given a gift of love.

Later Midrash, rabbinic commentary, says that Mt. Sinai was the scene of the wedding of God and the Jewish people. It was there that God declared eternal love for us, and we accepted the declaration.

Tonight, therefore, the anniversary of the revelation on Mt. Sinai, is the Sabbath of Love. Not a romantic love of hearts and flowers, but an eternal covenant of responsibility. Care for the stranger, the orphan and the widow, says, God, and I will care for you.

My revelation came not on a mountain, but in a Jewish sanctuary. It came not with thunder and lightning, but with a flame of love that lit up my every fiber. And like the children of Israel, I have forever been changed by it.

To read Torah is to experience, just a little bit, the power of that first revelation. To celebrate Shabbat and observe mitzvoth is to come just a little closer to the presence of the One and Only.

May this Shabbat bring us all an experience of Love with a capital L.