This Tuesday will be the holiday of Shavuot (Pentecost). This holiday marks the time when Israel received the Torah (Pentateuch) at the foot of Mt. Sinai. It is also a good time to reflect on the conditions that must be met for the Torah to be given, and on what the word Torah actually means.
Torah, in Hebrew, means Light, and it also means instruction, law. To “receive” the law, to understand it and learn how to work with it, there was a condition the ancient Hebrews had to meet, in return for which, they received the Light enclosed in the Torah. It is written (Exodus 19:2), “…there Israel encamped before the mount.” Rashi, the great 11th century Kabbalist and commentator, explains that when Israel camped before the mount, they were as one man and one heart. This was the prerequisite for receiving the Torah.
Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag (Baal HaSulam), the greatest Kabbalist of the 20th century, explains that this prerequisite has never changed. We received the Torah at the foot of Mount Sinai, but we lost it -- the knowledge of the law of life -- because of our unfounded hatred for one another.
The Torah isn’t a book in today’s sense of the word. The importance of the Torah is not in the dots of ink speckled on the parchment. The words of the Torah are meaningless unless their deepest meaning is perceived within one’s heart. In much the same way, Einstein’s formula E=mc2 is meaningless unless we understand what it means and how to use it to our benefit.
And the prerequisite for perception of this law, the law of life we call “Torah,” is that we are, as Rashi says, “as one man and one heart.”
Additionally, today’s world presents an even greater challenge. In The Book of Zohar, Rabbi Shimon Bar-Yochai (Rashbi) explains that the whole nation is responsible for one another. It is written (Midrash Raba) that Rashbi compared us to people in a boat when one of us begins to drill a hole in the bottom of the boat. When the others ask him, “What are you doing?” he replies, “Why do you care? Am I not drilling under me?”
Rabbi Elazar, son of Rabbi Shimon Bar-Yochai, goes even further and explains that we are not only responsible for one another within the Israeli nation, but that all the people in the world are responsible for one another, and that the Hebrews must be the first to carry out this mutual guarantee, among themselves and toward the whole of humanity.
Indeed, the global village that our planet has become proves how right were the words of The Book of Zohar, written almost 2,000 years ago. Today, it is not just the Jews, the descendants of the ancient Hebrews, who are standing at the foot of Mount Sinai, it is the whole of humanity. Clearly, without mutual care and consideration of everybody’s needs we will have no salvation and no hope for a good future. And true mutual care and consideration can only be if we are all as one man and one heart, that is, one united soul, bonded by threads of love among all its members.