Torah with Star

Parshat Yitro: Exodus 18:1-20:23; Isaiah 6:1-7:6; 9:5-6.

The newly liberated band of Jews just left Egypt and are now marching toward Mt. Sinai. They would finally meet their God and enter into a relationship with Him by accepting the Torah and the historic Jewish mission. As the Jews camped, they proclaimed their commitment to the Torah, pledging “We will do and we will hear.”

But the Talmud reports of something quite mystifying. Before actually giving the Torah, God lifted the mountain and held it over the Jews’ heads, forcing them to accept the Torah.

Rabbi Levi Dubov
Provided Rabbi Levi Dubov

The teachings of Chassidus illuminate this mysterious tale: At Mt. Sinai, the Jews experienced the ultimate revelation of divine inspiration, love and truth. Witnessing this left them with no other choice but to say “Yes.”

Our sages asked if the experience was forced upon us, can we really claim to have made the commitment to the Torah by our own volition? 

Then in 357 B.C.E., almost 1,000 years after the giving of the Torah, the quintessential antisemite Haman decreed the global annihilation of the Jewish people.

With the threat of looming death, the Jews were given the opportunity to renounce their faith and thus be saved. But amazingly, inspired by the fearless leader Mordechai, the entire Jewish people held onto their faith, proclaiming their relationship with God more important than physical life itself. Then, God, in a miraculous turn of events, saved the Jewish people, giving rise to the Purim holiday.

While at Mt. Sinai, the Jews felt the inspiration and connection. At the Purim decree, the Jews were living in dark and uninspiring times, with a prevailing sense of God’s absence. It was at this opportunity that the Jews chose, by their own volition, that they want to be Jews.

This was the Judaism history has been waiting for. A Judaism that flows from the core of the soul.

We, too, have our own Mt. Sinai moments. That is when we feel inspired, when it feels easy to “get in the groove” of Judaism. While this may feel liberating, it is in fact the opposite; it is a temporary and forced Judaism, an inspiration thrusted upon us from above, not one emerging from our own choice.

The ideal model is a Judaism and commitment that flows from within, a choice that we make, not from an external force or influence. This is the real Judaism, the way it is meant to be lived. 

Don’t wait for inspiration; create your inspiration. Don’t wait for the light; be the light. When you feel uninspired, realize that it is a challenge for deeper connection and commitment. It is specifically in the uninspiring moments when we have the opportunity to own our Judaism. 

Rabbi Levi Dubov directs the Chabad Jewish Center of Bloomfield Hills and teaches adult-education courses. He can be reached at rabbi@bloomfieldhillschabad.org.