We had to stop short our learning in 1st grade this afternoon so they can get to PE on time. At first they were so, so disappointed, then they realized something and started to jump with joy: “Tomorrow we’re getting the Torah! Tomorrow we’re getting the Torah!”
Although the holiday celebrating the Giving of the Torah is still almost six months away, this week’s reading which includes the Ten Commandments, is like a little holiday of such. The extensive preparations and excitement was great back then, not only in my class.
Before the Giving of the Torah, the Children of Israel are told:
וְאַתֶּ֧ם תִּהְיוּ־לִ֛י מַמְלֶ֥כֶת כֹּהֲנִ֖ים וְג֣וֹי קָד֑וֹשׁ
“And you shall be unto Me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6), and the question raised is, what does it mean for you to be “a kingdom of priests”? If it means that we should all be like the priests, well then, the priests of the Temple did not own land, were dependent on the people for their food and basic survival, and were busy serving the sacrifices, which were made and brought to them by others! If we’re all priests, who will do the rest of the work? Are you seriously saying we’re all supposed to be kind of like this?
Yes, pretty much, says the “Ba’al HaSulam” (1885-1954). There are many commentaries on this but his focus is saying that just like the priests have no share in the materialistic things of the land, so we should also remember that the world belongs to G-d, and we have to part of the flow, part of giving and receiving.
Flow is hard for us. It means being tunes in to the song of the universe; it means – being. In order to do so, we need to switch our self-centered egotistical needs and wishes, to more altruistic feelings and actions; to focusing on what we can and want to give; to figuring out how we can serve and improve life for those around us. Giving means we empty a spot within us to receive, and vise versa. Sometimes the action itself is not that different and all that happens is us seeing ourselves differently. “In those moments”, says the Ba’al HaSulam, “it’s as if someone who is doing their daily, mundane chores, sowing or harvesting ot whatever the task, is like the high priest, standing in the Temple, offering incenses and sacrifices to G-d.”
We still talk about the Giving of the Torah, because while it is given, it is up to us to receive it. Contrary to what we might think, receiving is even harder than giving (think of compliments we hear about ourselves – we tend to view them either with “modesty” or haughtiness). The Torah is a love song to the world. Had G-d not cared about His creation, He would have not bothered telling us what to do, how to be better to each other, our animals, plants and greater environment around us. Us joining it with joy and excitement, is us participating in this great love.