For A Sage Life
On a global scale, why does it matter so much what happened to the Israelites in the no-man’s land of Mount Sinai? If this were just a story about a band of tribes, what would it mean to the world? But it echoes all the way to Heaven because it echoes the original Revelation of G-d breathed into Adam, Tzelem Elokim, and through him to every human being.
The Creation of the world, in particular the Creation of Mother Eve, parallels the Creation of the Jewish people. Eve was singled out as Created from and for Adam, and Bnei Yisrael — the smallest and most insignificant nation, the least likely to expect Salvation from the Redeemer — is singled out at Sinai as a Mamlechet Kohanim, a kingdom of priests. Adam and Eve end their Genesis in exile, away from the lost birthplace of Eden, wandering aimlessly. The Israelites are equally lost but are galvanized by purpose, wending their way homebound to the Promised Land. And whereas Adam and Eve were asked to steward the physical world, the Israelites are tasked with shepherding its spiritual and moral interactions.
The story of G-d’s Revelation comes with a challenge. Disoriented escapees from the Egyptian powerhouse are commanded to broadcast the message far and wide: G-d’s Image is inseparable from everyone. Our bedraggled assembly never imagined that G-d’s tremendous melody would megaphone to the farthest expanses, internally, eternally. We thought the opposite: It is too much! Please, Moshe, intervene for us and report back! Small-minded cowards that we were.
No one can know the origin of G-d, and yet G-d re-Creates the intelligent awareness of Him within the birth of each person. G-d’s declaration of Himself to the Israelites is defined by the first two words of the Ten Commandments. “I am.” Anochi Hashem. This message was not intended exclusively for the Jewish people. This is the wide thunder of time. The Ruakh Elokim reverberates within every human. This principle of universality is the essence of Judaism, that G-d is attainable to all within the everpresence of each G-d-given breath. A priest is a spiritual doctor to remind the betrodden that His image has been implanted within them from the very first breath of life.
G-d begins history here, Self-revealing to a nation that rejected being bound to the most powerful nation known at the time. Israel detached itself from the detached and localized deities of Egypt, choosing instead the universal G-d of Truth. It was a bold choice to leave the center of the manmade world and find G-d in the uninhabitable desert beyond. This was the telltale legacy and radical act of Abraham’s children. Adam is commanded to till, and Moses leads his people into the untillable place, to wait and wander until.
Each has a message to bring from the past. Adam and Eve from the lushness of the Garden, and the Israelites from the barrenness of the desert, are to carry forward the knowledge of G-d as a fire. Because of Shavuot, we return to Bereishit.1 There is more to life when there is G-d within everyone’s soul. Our meaning doesn’t come from without but rather from within.
( 1 ) Uniquely, primordial Eve does not die in the Bible story, and although Yaakov Akinu expires at the age of 147, Israel is not given that same end to his lifespan. Rather, there is a famous line about his people: incorporated into the name Nili is the unique character of our people, Netzakh Yisrael Lo Yishaker, the eternality of Israel is no lie. The people of Israel live forever.
There is mysterium; life masques fear.