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Everyday Sinai: Finding the Torah in Modern Life

By Rabbi Stephanie Kennedy

June 1, 2024 • Iyar 24, 5784

colorful depicition of mount sinai

On a recent drive from the East Bay to LA, my four-year-old daughter, with the Passover story still fresh in her mind, excitedly pointed out every mountain peak, exclaiming, “Mama, look, I think that one is Mount Sinai!” Through her eyes, the ancient stories of our tradition were woven into the fabric of her own experiences.

Shavuot, commencing at sundown on June 11th this year, commemorates the Israelites being given the Torah at Mount Sinai. It is a pivotal moment in the Jewish calendar, arriving just seven weeks after Passover.

Yet for my daughter, the biblical narrative of God giving the Torah was something that could be happening now, right where she was, driving down the I-5. In a surprising way, she was living out an ancient rabbinic story that describes the moment the Torah was given:

When God’s voice came forth, it was divided into seventy human languages, ensuring that everyone, from the youngest to the oldest, could understand. (Shemot Rabbah 5:9)

This teaching reminds us that the Torah cannot be understood or interpreted in just one way. It also opens up the idea that each person is meant to hear the Torah in a way that is meaningful and relevant to them. The ongoing process of making the Torah relevant reflects a dynamic interaction between tradition and personal engagement. The Kotzker Rebbe (1787–1859) explored this dynamic, explaining,

The giving of the Torah took place on the day commemorated by Shavuot, but the receiving takes place at all times. It was given to all equally, but receiving the Torah was different for every person according to their ability to understand.

The Torah is in a continual process of reception and interpretation, happening anew with each generation. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks expanded on this, highlighting that it is actually necessary for each generation to engage with the Torah through the lens of their own values and ethical concerns. He observed,

Each age has to interpret the Torah in its own terms. The Torah is not simply in the heavens; it is also on earth. It speaks to our condition and our time.

As Shavuot approaches, may you feel empowered to engage in our ancient tradition and texts, on your own terms, knowing you are vital to its still living history. And, may you remember that the qualities that make you unique—your values, your experiences, and your histories—have the power to uncover both new and ancient wisdom. 


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