By: Rabbi Bryan Kinzbrunner
Director of Religious and Spiritual Services
The holiday of Shavuot commemorates the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. The process of traveling through the desert from Egypt and arriving at the Sinai Wilderness in preparation for this tremendous moment is described in Exodus 19:1-2:
“On the third new moon after the Israelites had gone forth from the land of Egypt, on that very day, they entered the wilderness of Sinai. Having journeyed from Rephidim, they entered the wilderness of Sinai and encamped in the wilderness. Israel encamped there in front of the mountain,”
Commenting on the redundancy of being “encamped in the wilderness” and “encamped there in front of the mountain,” Rashi suggests that this phrase hints that the Israelites were “like one person with one heart.” In this moment of arriving to receive the Torah at Mount Sinai, the people were united in a way that they hadn’t been before nor ever been since. It is through this unity that Gd revealed the Torah to the people, starting with the Ten Commandments.
In reflecting on this concept of being “like one person with one heart,” it is easy to presume that the verse hints to their being united because of location, awaiting the revelation. Yet, if it was just physical proximity, the comment regarding unity would be rather uninteresting. Instead, the Israelite’s sense of common mission is on full display at this time, a unity that goes beyond the physical and lies in the spiritual.
Today, we find ourselves celebrating the holiday of Shavuot physically apart from one another. Yes, as I write these words synagogues throughout the United States are now able to start allowing for small, in person prayer services. Nevertheless, for most, Shavuot will remain a holiday celebrated in one’s home, away from one’s community. We continue to maintain physical distancing and are left to wonder, how do we celebrate the communal reception of the Torah if we can’t be together?
I would suggest that the answer is in Rashi’s comment. This year, we can’t be together to hear the reading of the Ten Commandments or for the attempts at all night study (though many are taking the opportunity before the holiday to gather virtually for study, making the most out of a challenging situation). While we will miss out on these communal expressions of celebration, this year presents an opportunity to focus on the spiritual unity. Whether we are truly alone and isolated or alone with our families, we can spend the time recognizing how each of us is in the same situation, united in a common mission of physical distancing to protect each other. Let us take this opportunity to reinvigorate a sense of unity in a world of division and chaos. May we find ourselves truly sensing that we are “like one person with one heart.”