We’re On Our Way to Sinai

by Arliene Botnick, April 30, 2024

On the second night of Passover, we began counting the Omer (a sheaf of barley), and we will count the Omer for 49 days, and on the 50th day, we will be celebrating the holiday of Shavuot, the holiday that celebrates our standing at Sinai to receive the commandments from God. Of course, the journey to Sinai was much longer than 49 days. We suffered and languished some 430 years as slaves in Egypt before we were ready to take on the responsibility of becoming a people, ready to commit ourselves to God and become partners in the covenant, the brit, with God. And we had had to wait for a leader, Moses, who saw the ‘light’ in the burning bush and knew that he was the one God had chosen to lead us.

Each day of counting the Omer, we count up one, so each day’s count brings us closer and closer to that time when, as a people, we will stand at the foot of the mountain and wait for Moses to come down with the tablets. Even when we receive the commandments at Sinai, we still aren’t yet ready and it’s about another 38 years before the slave mentality that has been part of our very being for so long is eradicated, and the generation of slaves gives way to the new generation that is ready to go into the promised land and create a permanent home, now being led by Joshua. The generation of slaves will die in the desert (even Moses will not enter the promised land), but the young will take on the new opportunity and challenge of becoming and living as free people.

Traditionally, the book we read them on the holiday of Shavuot is the Book of Ruth. We read her story because she is the quintessential Jew by choice. She has gone through a kind of Beit Din with her mother-in-law Naomi. When Naomi urges Ruth and her sister-in-law Orpah not to return to the promised land but stay in Moab, since their Jewish husbands have died, Ruth, unlike Orpah, remains dedicated to Naomi and the Jewish people. Ruth is ready and willing to accept her role as part of our people. Her beautiful words, spoken as she commits herself to being a Jew, echoes through the centuries: (Ruth1:16-18) Do not urge me to leave you or turn back from you. Where you go, I will go, and where you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die, I will die and there I will be buried”. Perhaps it is for her dedication she is rewarded by becoming the great grandmother of David, King David, from whose descendants the Messianic Age will be realized.

It is often on the holiday of Shavuot that we honour those who, like Ruth, have taken the journey to become part of our people, and we are blessed at Solel to have so many who have enriched our congregation and Klal Yisrael by their commitment and their dedication. We are blessed with their presence. But this year, in particular, that journey to Sinai, and ultimately to the promised land is overshadowed by the dangerous and frightening reality of what’s happening now in the Middle East, and to an extent, in Jewish community worldwide. Our right to a homeland is now being questioned, challenged, denied! Scripture and history have seen us in the promised land for thousands of years, yet we are being denigrated as colonialists, newcomers who unlawfully are in the land. We are being threatened by extreme groups who see the presence of Israel as a presence they cannot tolerate. They appear not to want a two-state solution, but one state solution, and that one state is not to include Israel. Their slogan from sea to sea is basically a threat to any Jewish presence in the Middle East.

Naftali Imber, who published, in his first book of poems in 1882, HaTikvah – the Hope (later to become the Israeli National Anthem) continued the age-old wish, hope, dream of returning to the promised land. Going right back to the book of Genesis, Abraham- 1800 BCE -was told by God to go (Lech Lecha) to the land that God will show him. Even while in exile in numerous countries or enslaved, as in Egypt, or enforced to live in Ghettoes, our dream has always been to have our homeland, to be safe in our homeland, to have a country that is ours. We were without an official homeland for almost 2000 years, but in 1948, the United Nations voted and declared that Israel is a State and that it legally be recognized as a State, that it can exist and should exist as a State. And for the past 76 years, Israelis have worked the land, built cities and towns, created centres of higher learning, developed medical facilities and been a leader in world innovation. Imber wrote about a hope for a homeland. That hope and the realization of our homeland is our right. That hope kept us strong when we were exiles in Babylonia, or exiled from Spain, Portugal, England. We’ve always looked towards the promised land. We are not colonialist invaders. When we left Egypt, fleeing from persecution in such haste we could not even wait for the bread to rise, we knew that we would be pursued, as we were. We got to the Reed Sea and somehow, miraculously, the waters parted. God’s hand led us out of Egypt. God led us to Sinai to receive the commandments. God led us into the promised land. May God keep us safely and securely there. Keyn Yehi Ratzon – May it be God’s will!

Filed under: Educator's Message

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