Think of an event. An earth-shattering historical event that shook the entire world and changed the lives of countless people. It can be D-Day, the Six-Day War, the first moon landing, 9-11, or the day little Batya Shapiro went to the dentist (What? That wasn’t an earth-shattering event?). If you weren’t around when the event happened and only read about it in a textbook, it could be quite boring. It has nothing to do with you. Even if you happen to find the history interesting, it is still not your experience!
But sometimes, even things from the past can come alive. How so?
Time for a Shazak Scenario:
Meet Zaidy, a.k.a. Grandpa, the greatest storyteller ever! When he tells his grandkids a story, it comes to life! That’s because the stories he tells are things that he himself experienced. He’s not just repeating something he heard. He is sharing his own experience.
“Let me tell you all about the time the American army reached the shores of Normandy, France, on D-Day! Our general told us, “We will accept nothing less than full victory.” I was there! I saw it with my very own eyes! Thank HaShem, we were victorious!”
“Really Zaidy? Tell us more about it!”
And then he tells them, and tells them, and tells them. Five hours later…
“And that’s the way it was…”
“Thanks, Zaidy… that was almost as good as Queen of Persia!”
Now back to the Desert Scenario:
Moshe said to his people, “Matan Torah! You personally witnessed the Matan Torah Experience at Har Sinai. The mountain burned with fire up to the heavens. You saw the thunder! You heard the lighting! Never let this experience depart from your heart, all the days of your life!”
Now, Moshe turned to his people with perhaps one of the most important messages, ever: “It is your job to transmit this Matan Torah Experience. Make it known to your children and your grandchildren. Let them convey this experience to their children and to their grandchildren… Remember… never break this Matan Torah Experience Chain!”
Perhaps Zaidy had an easy job transmitting his “experience” down a couple of generations, but think how difficult this job of passing down this “Matan Torah Experience” a few hundred generations!
But we have done it. From Moshe to Yehoshua, from Yehoshua to the elders, from the elders to the prophets… all the way down to you and me in the 21st century!
Har Sinai. Mount Sinai. The Mount Sinai Experience! AWESOME! It’s hard to think of a place that is more important to our people (and the entire world). In fact, Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman, a.k.a. Ramban, a.k.a. Nachmanides (1194-1270), tells us that remembering what happened at Mount Sinai and telling our children about it is one of the 613 Mitzvos of the Torah.
And let’s not forget the Holiday of Shavuos, when we celebrate the Giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai!
Yet, as much as we talk about Har Sinai, nobody knows for sure where the mountain is or which mountain it is. And nobody took the time to mark it for future generations. Why is that? It seems like a super important landmark that we should all know about.
It seems that HaShem is teaching us an important lesson:
The mountain itself is not important. It is the Torah and HaShem’s Shechinah (Divine Presence) which are so special. Once we received the Torah and the Shechinah left, the mountain went back to being what it had been all along: a big pile of rocks.
Indeed, HaShem and His Torah are simply everywhere…. not limited to a specific time or place. So where is this Mount Sinai? We don’t know, and it doesn’t really matter. The main thing is that now we have the Torah and it’s ours to live by.
The Rambam’s classic work of Jewish law, the Mishneh Torah, is an amazing resource to understand the laws of Talmud Torah, teaching and learning Torah. Surprisingly, when he describes the Mitzvah to teach our children, the Rambam quotes these words from our Parsha: “And you shall make known to your children and grandchildren [about the experience of Matan Torah].”
Hold it! Aren’t these words of the Pasuk talking about transmitting the Matan Torah Experience? It’s not really about teaching Torah.
It seems that the Rambam is teaching us an important Torah lesson – the key to teaching Torah is to transform it into an “experience.” Indeed, the Rambam considers the Matan Torah Experience an integral part of Torah.
“The thunder, they saw! The lighting, they heard!” Moshe Rabbeinu said.
Huh?! You don’t see thunder and you don’t hear lightning! Is this a printing mistake?
No… It was a miracle! More on that back in Parshas Yisro.