Try to remember it.
The air was dry and crackling with electricity.
There was thunder and lighting but the sky was not dark.
The breeze felt like the breath of God upon your face.
You and all those around you stood facing the mountain,
your eyes upraised –
receiving. . .
Yes. You were at Sinai.
We all were.
Do you remember?
The Midrash tells us that every Jewish soul was there – Abraham and all those who came before the generation of Moses, and all of us who were born after, and another midrash tells us that even those who were not born Jewish but chose Judaism – they too were at Sinai, and so were the Gerim Toshavim – those members of the Jewish community who were not Jewish themselves but chose to live among the People of Israel.
So you see,
we were all there –
and those who love us and live among us.
We were all there at Sinai.
Do you remember?
Or do you think it’s impossible?
That we couldn’t have been there ourselves?
That we can’t possibly have memories from another life;
from another time and place;
from a story that may not even be historically accurate?
How could we have been there?
How could we remember?
It’s a dream, Rabbi,
it’s a fairy-tale.
But don’t we remember our dreams? …
Love stories are powerful things.They outlive time and reality;they make the impossible possible.
In the best love stories, people fall in love and lose one another and then find each other again – sometimes after terribly long periods of time, or against tremendous odds, or across long distances.
In high-school I was captivated by the famous saying:
If you love something set it free,
if it comes back to you it’s yours,
and if it doesn’t it never was.”
This idea that love conquers all – that two lovers always find their way back to one another – has always captivated and enchanted me.
And I’m not alone.
Entire industries are built on fairy-tale endings – from Disney movies to romantic comedies and romance novels.
We all like a happy ending;
We all like a good fairy-tale.
We all root for the prince to rescue the princess –
or sometimes it’s the other way around.
And no one ever says – “Impossible!”
(unless they’re nursing a broken heart themselves)
The industry of love stories never crumbles under the weight of reality. It holds up with a magical power of its own.
If we’re smart, we don’t question love when it happens. We don’t worry about chemical reactions and hormones and pheromones. We allow ourselves to be caught up in it; outside of time and space and scientific reasoning; outside of rationalization and logic and understanding.
And that’s where Sinai is.
Or didn’t you know?
The story of the People of Israel and Our Torah is the greatest love story of them all.
In the Zohar, a famous Jewish mystical text from the 13th century, we find the following passage:
To what can [Torah] be compared? To a lovely princess, beautiful in every way and hidden deep within her palace. She has one lover, unknown to anyone; he is hidden too. Out of his love for her, this lover passes by her gate constantly, lifting his eyes to every side. She knows that her lover is hovering about her gate constantly. What does she do? She opens a little window in her hidden palace and reveals her face to her lover, then swiftly withdraws, concealing herself. No one near the lover sees or reflects, only the lover, and his heart and his soul and everything within him flow out to her. And he knows that out of love for him she revealed herself for that one moment to awaken love in him. So it is with a word of Torah: She reveals herself to no one but her lover…and his heart and soul and everything within him flows out to her. That is why Torah reveals and conceals herself.
It’s a stunningly beautiful passage, evoking powerful imagery and reminding us of the best parts of falling and being in love.
When we find ourselves in love, we feel we have discovered someone or something that was previously unknown to us, and we might even feel like we have discovered something that was previously unknown to the world; that no one else has ever found or felt before.
This is the princess, hidden deep within her palace, and her lover who is hidden too.
This is Torah, that so often seem to be hiding behind ancient languages, mysterious grammatical constructs, strange stories, and foreign, often challenging, ideas.
When we find ourselves in love we want to be around the one we love all the time. We find reasons to visit them; we make excuses to be around them; we fall all over ourselves to arrange a meeting, and if they permit us, we bind ourselves to them with fancy pieces of paper, sacred words, and vows of life-long commitment.
This is the princess’ lover, passing by her gate constantly and looking for her everywhere.
This is Torah, which we bind ourselves to in a weekly cycle of reading, and when we complete it, we go back to the beginning and start again.
We never tire of walking alongside the Torah.
We never finish without beginning anew.
We weave Torah into the fabric of our daily lives,
living by its words and its wise teachings.
It’s a lifelong commitment we make –
we have “date-night” each Shabbat
and we mark special
anniversaries each year –
“This is the day that we found you”;
“This is the day Moses introduced us”;
“This is the day that God brought you into our lives”
Do you remember?
When we find ourselves in love, we find ourselves revealing our deepest truths and our most closely guarded secrets with the one we love. Usually we do this bit by bit – an emotional strip-tease. We peel back the layers of ourselves – like onions – and the truth of us bring tears to the eyes of the one who loves us in return.
This is the princess, revealing her face to her lover and then withdrawing.
This is Torah, who has a different secret to reveal to us each year as we look at it with fresh eyes – a year older, a year wiser, more experienced, more jaded, more knowledgable, more cautious.
The truth of our lives impacts what we discover anew in Torah each year.
Torah entices us with mysteries and reveals that which we most need to know. And we love her because she seems to always know which message we need to hear.
But the princess also conceals herself and Torah does too.
Too much knowledge can damage a relationship.
Too much revelation can damage a soul.
Some things are best revealed slowly –
at the right time, in the right ways –
a person who loves you knows what to hold back
in addition to what to share;
So too does Torah know.
So too does God.
When we find ourselves in love, we feel that the one who loves us, sees in us things that go unnoticed by others. They look at us as if we are the most beautiful thing on earth. They seem to see nothing else. We captivate them and are captivated by their loving gaze in return.
This is the princess, who is not seen or reflected on by anyone other than her lover.
This is Torah – often misunderstood, misinterpreted and misrepresented by those who don’t love her enough to see what’s beyond the surface to search beyond the challenging language; to struggle against the foreign ideas; to find the beauty of the truth in the deeper layers.
Only a lover can see what others miss, and tradition teaches that only the People of Israel have this special relationship with Torah, seeing what others miss; loving what others mistrust or malign.
Where others have built upon Torah’s foundation to create something new, we are the ones who say to Torah:
Never change. We love you just the way you are.
Finally, when we find ourselves in love, we find that we are motivated to be our best selves. “You make me want to be a better man,” one might say to his lover.
We want to be the best we can be for the one we love and we want to make the world a place that is worthy of their being in it.
We do things for those we love
that we might not think to do for ourselves
and usually we are better for it
and they are better for it
and the whole world is better for it.
This is the lover, who knows that the princess revealed herself to him to awaken love within him.
This is Torah, which provides the loving guidance we need to be our best selves, and to take care of others and the world around us so that it can be at its best too.
Torah inspires us and we are better for it
and others are inspired by us and they are better for it
and so the world is better for it
and perhaps even God is better for it.
All because we are part of a great love story;
A love story that has enabled us to survive against tremendous odds,
and to travel great distances,
and to live many lives throughout centuries of time.
Our love story is the love story of the Jewish people;
The love story of a People and their Torah;
A People and their God.
It is a love story of humanity.
It is a love story of the world.
And love stories live outside time and space and reality and scientific understanding.
Love stories are the stuff of dreams, and yet, every once in a while, we find ourselves within one, and so we know that they are real.
Which is why I know that I was at Sinai
and that I met the love of my life there.
You were there too.
Close your eyes.
Turn your face up toward the mountain.
Feel the breath of God against your cheek
perhaps you are crying or smiling
You hear the thunder but there is also the warmth of the sun.
Energy crackles in the air around you.
You have found Torah. You are in love.
You feel peaceful and safe
because you know that this love will be with you for always:
in all lifetimes
in all places
in all moments
in all dreams.
It is a love that transcends all other things.
You are at Sinai.
You are home.
Do you remember?
This week may we cling to this moment of revelation and keep it safe within us, with all other moments of personal and communal revelation, and may we know it is always there with us, and may we not need a yearly reminder to feel the joy we feel right now.
Kein Yehi Ratzon. May it be God’s Will.