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Rabbi ALtein


by Rabbi Altein, June 6, 2011

It will soon be the holiday of Shavuot. Shavuot is the anniversary of when G-d gave the Jewish People the Torah at Mount Sinai. The entire Jewish nation heard G-d state the Ten Commandments. Afterwards, Moses ascended the mountain for forty days and nights, to learn all the 613 precepts of the Torah.

On the first day of Shavuot, we read the Ten Commandments in synagogue. It is most important that every Jew, old or young, make a supreme effort to be in synagogue and relive the historic moments at Mount Sinai.

The Torah describes this phenomenal event with these words: “G-d spoke these words to all of you, on the mountain, from within the fire, the darkness and thick cloud. He spoke with a powerful voice that was not repeated.”

The simple meaning of this verse “a powerful voice that was not repeated” is that never again in history would G-d’s voice be heard by such a multitude of people, with such power and force.

Our sages offer another interpretation to these words. They say that when G-d spoke, there was no echo. Thus, the words were not repeated, in the sounds of an echo.

This interpretation requires an explanation. The Torah’s words are “a powerful voice that was not repeated”. How does the fact that there was no echo display the power of G-d’s voice? On the contrary, the louder and more powerful a voice is, the greater its echo!

Furthermore, only a miracle would have prevented the voice from being echoed. Yet, G-d does not perform miracles unless there is an important need for Him to alter the course of nature. What important purpose would be served by the voice not having an echo?

The answer to this question is a fascinating insight to the meaning of Judaism and Torah.

An echo is generated by sound waves bouncing off the surrounding surfaces. Just as a ball bounces back off a wall, so do sound waves bounce off a wall and thus create an echo. However, if the wall is of soft cushiony material, the ball will sink into the wall and not bounce back. Similarly, a wall surface that is porous does not generate echoes—instead it absorbs the sound waves.

When G-d spoke the Ten Commandments, His voice was so powerful that it penetrated every single surface that it encountered. Nothing in this world could form an impenetrable barrier before the word of G-d, so that without performing a miracle, there naturally was no echo!

There is a custom that when great Jews die, they are buried in a casket that is built from the wood of the table at which they had studied Torah. (The late Rabbi Kravetz was buried in a casket that was built of the wooden table of the Ashkenazie Synagogue, where he had studied and prayed during his lifetime.) The reason for this custom is that the wood of the table on which people prayed and studies Torah is different than ordinary wood. The words of Torah penetrate the physical table and refine it.

This provides us with a deep insight into the Jewish attitude towards Torah. In Jewish life there is no dichotomy between “religion” and our social and business affairs. We cannot compartmentalize our lives to act like a good Jew in the synagogue and then revert to a gentile lifestyle when we go home or eat out. A Jew should be a wholesome person, where his everyday affairs are a true reflection of his spiritual stature. In fact, the way we live outside the synagogue is the litmus test of how real and true are our prayers and Torah study. True Torah permeates every facet of human life.


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