On the first day of the third month after the Israelites left Egypt—on that very day—they came to the Desert of Sinai. — Exodus 19:1
The Torah portion for this week is Naso, from Numbers 4:21–7:89, along with special Torah readings for Shavuot, Exodus 19:1–20:23 and Deuteronomy 14:22–16:17.
Going to the movies in Israel, you can almost forget where you are. The comfortable seats, popcorn and soda — it feels like the good old American movie theaters that we grew up with — except for one thing. Just when the plot gets good, there is an inevitable intermission. We are left waiting for ten minutes to find out what happens next!
The Exodus story feels just like that – like there is an intermission in the middle of the plot. The Israelites came out of Egypt, crossed through the Red Sea, sang a joyous song . . . and then what?
It would seem that this would be the perfect place to seal the deal with the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. But that’s not what happened. It wasn’t for another forty-nine days – seven weeks – that the Sinai event happened. This is why we celebrate Shavuot, the giving of the Torah, forty-nine days after Passover. Why the holdup?
Think about the most inspirational moment in your life. Was it a wedding? A birth? A magnificent sunset? Inspirational moments are powerful and motivating. But what matters most is what happens after the inspiration fades. A wedding, no matter how beautiful, does not make a good marriage. Hard work and consistent caring does. Birth does not guarantee good children; again work and constant parenting are required. And so it goes with any and all inspirational moments – they are only as meaningful as the concrete steps that they inspire. Inspiration must be followed by perspiration in order to become real.
The Jewish sages teach that this is why God chose to add space between the Exodus and the giving of His Word. The Exodus was inspirational. The sages teach that even the lowliest of the Israelites saw greater visions and miracles than the great prophet Ezekiel! It was an awesome experience of God, never to be seen by a whole nation ever again! But that didn’t make the Israelites worthy of the Torah. For that, they would have to work. They would have to endure forty-nine days in the desert. Forty-nine days that were not so inspiring. Forty-nine days to take the inspiration of the Exodus and make it real – through the hard work of faith and obedience. Only then were they ready to receive God.
We all are inspired from time to time, but the lesson of the Israelites in the desert is to persevere through the more mundane parts of life. We need to take the inspiration and make it real so that it becomes a lasting part of who we are and how we live.
Challenge: Do one act of kindness today that you wouldn’t normally do. Take your love for God and make it something real!
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President