by Rabbi Marc J Margolius
The ancient sage Rabbi Joshua Ben Levi once compared the idea of God speaking to the Jewish people at Mount Sinai to a hammer striking an anvil, causing sparks to fly off in all directions. Each and every person at Sinai—from the oldest to the youngest, from the wisest to the simplest—heard God speaking to them personally, according to their unique capacity. More than this, taught Rabbi Joshua: each and every day, God’s voice goes forth from Sinai. Revelation, the giving of Torah, is eternal and ongoing.
Judaism teaches that God’s “voice” is accessible to all people at all times, if we are willing and able to truly hear. The giving of Torah was not a “one-time” event, reducible to a single text; it is a continual process, constantly unfolding through our personal engagement with our community, past and present. But we cannot truly “hear” God as individuals in isolation. Our personal revelation is only one of the sparks flying off the anvil. To “hear” God, we must seek out the other sparks, past and present. This is the essence of studying Torah—seeking out God’s voice through engagement with each other and with our tradition.
In each age, the particular understanding of Torah may change over time, sometimes in startling ways making it unrecognizable to past generations. The text of the Torah is the starting point of a moral conversation echoing through generations. What imbues Jewish morality with legitimacy and sanctity—and what ultimately satisfies Moses—is that it is constantly developed with an ear tuned to the voice of our past. Without coherence and continuity to our moral conversation, our words are nothing but soliloquy.
So what does it mean, as tradition says, that even today we are all standing at Mount Sinai? It means that we stand before the hundreds of generations that have carried the conversation to us. All their voices echo through the ages, beckoning us to join them, as it were, around a cosmic dinner table where we might learn together. As modern Jews, we must train our ears to hear and to respect each and every voice, pull our chairs to the table, and finally, to venture a word of our own.