In the third month following
the children of Israel's exodus from the land of Egypt;
that same day they came into the wilderness
of Sinai... And there Israel camped opposite
the mountain (Exodus 19:1-2)
At all their other encampments, the verse
says vayachanu ("and they camped," in the plural);
here it says vayichan ("and he camped," in the
singular). For all other encampments were in argument and
dissent, whereas here they camped as one human, with one
heart (Mechilta, Rashi)
Many thinkers argue that
our understanding of the universe has evolved from a pluralistic view to a
singular view. Earlier in history, our so-called primitive perspective measured
the universe with the naked senses, resulting in a perception that the world
was made up of many different parts, ruled by diverse forces.
Today, however, we have
developed a far more sophisticated appreciation of the universe as one unified
whole. The multitude of systems and organisms are all part of a single entity
and the countless personalities of nature all fall under several unifying
laws that govern all of existence. And the search for the one “unified field
theory,” which will explain all phenomena, remains the defining and ultimate
When exactly did this
perception change? When did humankind begin to see – experience – the universe
as one unified entity, instead of a composite of myriad pieces?
According to the Torah
it happened 3319 years ago today, when the nation of Israel camped opposite
What power did Sinai have
that united the people when they “camped opposite the mountain”?
The Midrash explains that
at Sinai an unprecedented experience took place that would change the course
of all history. Up till that point that which was “above” did not descend
“below” and that which was “below” did not ascend “above.” The spiritual and
sublime was divorced from the material and the mundane. Spirit and matter
were two forces that could not join. Obviously, even before Sinai matter and
energy were essentially one (E=MC2 was discovered, not created
by Einstein), but human beings were unable to integrate them.
Sinai changed all that.
It married heaven and earth, integrating the sublime and the mundane, uniting
the majestic and the plain.
In one word: Fusion. Sinai
achieved a total fusion of matter and spirit. It empowered mankind to renovate
the very nature of existence; to transform the material into spiritual fuel.
We now can take an inanimate, physical object, and convert it into sublime
energy; to bring alive every fiber of our beings and every aspect of our existence.
To take what would have been an ordinary experience and make it extraordinary.
Instead of a fleeting moment, a transient life can become eternal, the temporary
can become permanent and the mortal – immortal.
This unprecedented fusion
changed not only the global landscape, but – and perhaps even more importantly
– it transformed our personal experience.
The human being is a universe
in microcosm. We too are comprised of two forces: Our bodies and our souls.
Each of us has a “biological” voice of survival, which rest side by side a
transcendental voice seeking relief. Can we integrate these two forces? Or
are we condemned, at best, to a compartmentalized life: Most of the time involved
in the struggle for survival, otherwise known as our physical needs, while
attempting to carve out moments (or weekends) for transcendental activities,
which take on many shapes, some healthy, some not so: Romance, music, art,
travel, spirituality and faith. Transcendental thirst is sometimes quenched
through self-destructive “waters” – various (physical or psychological) obsessions
or addictions – anything to “get out of this place” of the monotonous grind.
Sinai introduced into
our lives a new way of being: You do not have to segment your life into two
(or more) parts. You have the power to spiritualize the material, and to fuse
your body with your soul.
You do this by turning
your body and your physical activities into vehicles to express and fulfill
your soul’s mission. Instead of controlling and directing your spiritual life,
your material life follows your soul’s desires. The driver directs the vehicle,
not the other way around.
The psychological implications
of personal fusion between the survival and the transcendental are as life
transforming as they are astonishing. Sinai unequivocally states that you
do not have to resign yourself to a life of duality.
This does not mean that
there is no struggle. Our perception remains one of plurality, clutching us
in its powerful grip. And, as we all know too well: The battle is fierce.
This is why cover our
eyes when we say the Shema (the most fundamental of all statements of faith):
As we declare “Hashem Echod” – that G-d is one, which means that there is
only ONE reality – we cover our naked eyes which deceive us into perceiving
a pluralistic universe.
All moments of truth are
best experienced with closed eyes; by shutting down the external stimuli of
our outer senses, we can experience the pulsating sensuality of our inner
And the way we perceive
ourselves affects the way we perceive others and the way we understand the
universe at large. In fact, it’s not just a matter of perception. The way
we perceive ourselves actually affects others and the world around us. Students
of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle are familiar with the scientifically
proven fact that on a sub-atomic level the “observer” of phenomena is not
a mere “observer,”† but actually impacts the “object” he is observing.
Bizarre as it sounds (that
is, bizarre to our limited faculties) this has been proven time and again
in laboratories around the world.
When you think about it
actually makes more sense that all aspects of the universe – and our lives
– are connected rather than disconnected. But this is yet another demonstration
how our external senses hold us hostage in their stubborn, myopic view of
a fragmented universe and our lives as a series of random, disjointed experiences.
Close your eyes, listen
to a gentle melody, and you will feel (for the moment at least) as one with
yourself, one with others, one with the universe – seamless and whole.
When the people arrived
at Sinai, they were suddenly taken by a new “music” that surrounded them.
All their differences, all their disagreements dissolved in the awesome moment.
They became “one human, with one heart.”
As we approach Sinai today
we prepare for our own rendezvous with destiny. On Shavuot go to a local synagogue
and listen to the reading of the Ten Commandments. Take your family and even
newborn children. Recreate the Sinai experience. Close your eyes. Visualize
heaven meeting earth and allow yourself to be absorbed by the symmetry.
Imagine invisible threads
connecting you and your family to all other people; all tiny fibers in a tapestry-matrix
woven together from all the cells and atoms of the universe. Let go of the
world as you know it and be mesmerized by Sinai fusionism.
When you open your eyes
Who will be in the driverís
seat: Your body and its needs or your soul?