Rabbi Dov Baer, the Maggid of Mezritch taught:
One who prays with all the familiar kavvanot (intentions) can only use those kavvanot that they know. But if one speaks a word with great connectivity, all the kavvanot are automatically included in that word. For every single letter is a complete world, and when the word is spoken with great concentration, those worlds above are certainly aroused. This accomplishes great wonders. Thus, one should be able to pray with concentration and fiery passion. (Likkutim Yekarim)
It’s Shavuot - time for blintzes or polao mastin and koltcha shiri! It’s also the time of year that we are called upon to imagine ourselves standing along with, and in the midst of, our ancestors as we receive Torah at the foot of Mount Sinai. Judaism is a religion and culture that puts focus on the narrative story - stories that have timelines - beginning, middle and end. In the Torah, our experience at Sinai is part of a longer narrative. But in the midst of this linear story, the rabbis encourage us to take a non-linear view. They encourage us to imagine ourselves as time travelers. As opposed to the common sci-fi narrative in which time travelers create havoc by encountering their previous selves or ancestors, we are encouraged to imagine ourselves there with our ancestors and with all of our progeny and the Jewish generations to come. Each one of us is invited to stand alongside our familial past and future descendants. And furthermore, we are asked not just to imagine this, but to believe that it is possible.
This is the context in which we experience revelation. This is the picture we are invited to envision as we are shown that which has been hidden. The idea of revelation supposes that there is inherent mystery around that which is revealed. For our ancestors, that was exceedingly true. They were so frightened and anxious that they created a golden calf idol at the foot of the mountain. The thing that was hidden from our ancestors was the Torah. As someone who has spent much of my adult life studying Torah, and getting to physically be in the synagogue, rolling the scroll, seeing the letters, and teaching it to our young people, the Torah is very physically present in my life. Simultaneously, I have been in the presence of those of you who have wept at the chance to touch a scroll for the first time - some of you because this was forbidden for women within the Jewish context in which you were reared, or because you came to Judaism as an adult. Each time I see someone experience the mystery and awe of our sacred story, I am reminded of Sinai; thrown backward and forwards simultaneously and standing beside my ancestors and those who will come after me, standing with awe in the midst of the great mystery of the unknown that is represented by this ancient scroll.
If the Maggid of Mezritch was right, and each letter is a complete world, imagine all of the worlds available to us in the scroll of our people. His encouragement to us to speak words with great connectivity speaks to our cores as Jews. Our words, when spoken with integrity and with the value of creating community, are at the core of what it means to be a Jewish community, to be a living community of torah, of learning.
This Shavuot, as we indulge in our dairy delicacies, may we do so knowing that we create worlds with each word we utter, may we experience the mystery of torah in our lives, and may we merit the tradition of learning (torah) with which we are entrusted.
Shabbat shalom and Chag sameach,