Shavuos 2013: Unity and Silence

Shavuos is upon us. In our times, the holiday is celebrated as the time we received the Holy Torah at Mount Sinai. The day is a day of Torah. Many have the custom to learn through the night in anticipation of the morning which we commemorate the revelation at Sinai. Extended Torah study is an excellent way to celebrate Shavuos.

To me, the most poignant element of ma’amad Har Sinai comes before the revelation. The Torah tells us that the Jewish people camped around the mountain. The world used to describe this encampment is the word va’yichan. We would expect that the word would be va’yichanu, in the plural tense. Instead we get va’yichan, in the singular tense. Rashi quotes the famous Midrashic interpretation that the Jewish people were united as one in their preparation for receiving the Torah. Since the people were “one” the Torah uses a singular tense to describe their encampment.

The message is loud and clear. We are being told that there can be no matan Torah without unity.

Thus, every year we hope to renew our covenant with God and Torah on Shavuos, but first we must fulfill the prerequisite of unity to have a chance at accepting the Torah.

In addition to our unity, it seems there was a unity of nature and supernature at the same time. Chazal tell us that the birds stopped chirping, the animals were quiet, even the Angels were silent. The seas were calm, people all over the word held their tongues. The entire world was waiting in absolute unity for God to share the Torah with the world.

To me, universal silence represents each person, each being, each element of nature listening as it were, to the word of God. When we are talking, when we are active, when we are not silent, we are unable to hear anything from the outside. In order to listen, in order to hear, we need to be silent.

In order to achieve true unity and to accept the Torah we need to be silent. We need to hear what is being said. We need to open our eyes and open our hearts to connect with one another and become one.

Unity means different things to different people. Some people think it means that we all need to agree. Some people think it means tolerance of others and acceptance of those who are within a certain accepted boundary. Some people think it must include everyone, even those you believe are truly evil or wrong.

To me, unity means listening to everyone. It means giving everyone an opportunity to be heard, even our opponents. Unity means trying to find common ground and focus on the things we can agree upon. It means choosing our battles wisely so that we can create positive feelings toward one another.

We have been through a lot over the last few weeks and months as a nation. Sometimes we get contentious toward one another. Often our disagreements are passionate and can get heated. We are all trying to do what is right.

As we approach Shavuos it is incumbent upon us to emulate our forefathers and come together as one in preparation of renewing our relationship to God and the Torah. We also must practice effective silence. We need to listen to one another. We need to hear each other. We need to create opportunities for dialogue and conversation.

We all want to merit the crown of Torah. Let us take these lessons and make them a part of our collective lives. Let us find the strength of unity and silence and we will find a Torah that connects us all to one another and to the Almighty.

Happy Shavuos

About the Author
Eliyahu Fink J.D. is the Rabbi at the Pacific Jewish Center | The Shul on the Beach in Venice California; Rabbi Fink is also a graduate of Loyola Law School of Los Angeles. Connect with Eliyahu Fink on Twitter, Facebook, and on his home blog at