by Rabbi Yisrael Kaniel – May 17, 2010

In Sh’mot 19:1-18, we are told, “On the third month, after the exodus of the children of Israel from the land of Egypt, in this day did they come to the wilderness of Sinai . . . .And Moses went up unto G-d, and the L-rd called unto him . . .’Thus shall you say to the house of Jacob and tell the children of Israel.  You have seen what I did to the Egyptians and I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself.  And now if you shall obey my voice and you will keep my covenant, shall you be to me a special treasure’ . . . .And Moses came and called for the elders of the people and laid before them all these words which the L-rd commanded him.  And all the people answered together and said, ‘All that the L-rd has spoken we will do’ . . . .And the L-rd said to Moses, ‘Go to the people and sanctify them today and tomorrow and they shall wash their clothes.  And be ready for the third day, because on the third day the L-rd will descend in the sight of all the people upon mount Sinai‘   . . .And it came to pass on the third day in the morning that there were thunders and lightning and a thick cloud upon the mount and the sound of the horn exceedingly  loud  so  that  all  the  people . . .trembled . . . .And Mount Sinai was engulfed in smoke for the L-rd descended upon it in fire, and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace and the whole mount quaked greatly.”

The above events served as a preamble to the most significant event in the history of the people of Israel – G-d’s bestowal of the path to eternal happiness, the Torah – which we are told in the Babylonian Talmud, Yoma 4b occurred on the sixth day of the third month, Sivan, the day that marks the holiday of Shavuot.

On the holiday of Shavuot, we reserve our energies to consider this special gift of the Torah.  On this day, we contemplate the Ten Commandments which have evolved as the ethical basis of all of human civilization.  We are told, “I am the L-rd your G-d who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.  You shall have no other gods before me.  You shall not make for yourself a graven image nor any manner of likeness of anything that is in heaven above nor that is in the earth beneath nor that is in the water under the earth.  You shall not bow down to them nor serve them for I the L-rd your G-d am a jealous G-d visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children until the third and fourth generation of those who hate me.  And showing mercy until the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.  You shall not take the name of the L-rd your G-d in vain for the L-rd will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.  Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.  Six days shall you labor and do all your work.  And the seventh day is a sabbath unto the L-rd your G-d, you shall do no work, you nor your son nor your daughter nor your man-servant nor your maid-servant nor your cattle nor your stranger who is within your gates.  For in six days the L-rd made the heaven and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and He rested on the seventh day, wherefore the L-rd blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.  Honor your father and your mother that your days may be long upon the land which the L-rd your G-d gives you.  You shall not murder.  You shall not commit adultery.  You shall not steal.  You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.  You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his man-servant nor his maid-servant nor his ox nor his ass nor anything that is your neighbor’s” (Sh’mot 20:2-14).

For one day in the Land of Israel and for two days in the diaspora, we cease labor in order to reserve our energies for prayer and to remind ourselves and intensify our appreciation of the unique event which occurred on this day of Shavuot, the day G-d chose to present us with the holy Torah and its laws – the G-d given path to truth, the G-d given path to happiness.

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