We are all searching for the truth. We yearn to understand the nature of this world, to find the purpose of our lives. This quest is a lifetime endeavor that begins as soon as we are self-aware and continues on thereafter. We use numerous methods of exploration along the way and progress through myriad levels of experience.

It is a hard struggle. Each time we think we have found the answer, we discover there are more layers to uncover, more puzzles to solve. As soon as one piece falls into place another jumps out of position, requiring yet a further realigning of our thoughts and beliefs.

Long and arduous is the search. It is easy to become forlorn over our inability to get at the whole picture – the real truth. But if we consider all the sacred knowledge that has been revealed over the millennia – the Torah and Tanakh, the teachings of the rabbis, works of philosophy, Kabbalah, Hasidut – the amount of profound wisdom we already have received is extraordinary.

This, Rebbe Natan of Nemirov teaches, is the reason behind the tradition of reading from the beginning and end of the different sacred scriptures on Shavuot night – to remind us of the many blessings, the vast wisdom that the Jewish people have harvested thus far. [1]

The Midrash tells us that there are shivim panim leTorah – seventy faces to the Torah. Each face offers a different perspective, each face opens the door to another encounter with God. According to the mystical tradition, each of the 600,000 letters of the Torah contains another ray of divine wisdom. Each letter reveals another spark of verity. There are countless levels of consciousness for us to uncover, innumerable aspects of reality to know, perceive and understand. The revelation of the Torah is an ongoing and ever-evolving process. Over the millennia more and more of the divine design is being revealed.

Rebbe Natan defines this whole process as bringing the Torah mikoach el hapoel – from the realm of potential energy into concrete reality. According to the sixteenth century mystic, Rabbi Isaac Luria (the Ari), there is a supernal Torah in the mind of God that contains all knowledge and wisdom. We can tap into this divine storehouse through contemplation, prayer and meditation. In this manner, its wisdom becomes impressed on our consciousness. Tapping into this kind of wisdom is not an intellectual or analytical process; it is a knowing through direct experience. We connect directly to the essence of an idea or concept as it exists in the mind of God. That eternal pattern then permeates the whole of our being.

Each time we integrate another piece of wisdom, we bring the Supernal Torah from the realm of potentiality into full conscious awareness. We actively draw its infinite light down into our physical plane of existence and infuse this mundane reality with its knowledge and power.

The holyday of Shavuot lies at the heart of this process. Shavuot is about more than reading the holy books and scriptures. Its real goal is to make the truth within the holy books alive within our own consciousness. Each Shavuot is another opportunity to receive a new revelation. We stay up all night and strive to get a glimpse of the greater divine reality. We stretch our minds to reach beyond the limits of our present knowledge and enter into new horizons of thought, being and life.

There are different ways we can prepare ourselves for this experience. We can follow the traditional path of studying through the night. In this approach, it is the expansion of our thoughts and ideas that creates a gateway to insight and understanding. For this process to be truly effective, it needs to be more than simply a cerebral exercise. We need to probe into the inner meaning of the texts we are learning, to struggle to discover the essential truth that is at its core. Only then will the teachings come alive and awaken within us spiritual inspiration.

A different path was followed by many of the early Hasidic Masters. They did not see Shavuot night as a time for collective study and discussion. For them, Shavuot was a time of solitude and contemplation where they would go out into the forest to meditate on the miracle of an eternal God who bridges the gap between the finite and the infinite to reveal himself to insignificant temporal creatures called human beings.

They spent Shavuot night in silence, purifying their hearts and minds. They struggled to free themselves of all preconceived notions and ideas and become a tabula rasa – a blank slate for God to engrave His wisdom upon.

Throughout the centuries, Jews have looked to Shavuot night as a time of inspiration and personal revelation. Each year, they have sought to meet their God at Mount Sinai and receive the words of the Torah with renewed understanding and faith.

The purpose of this unfolding revelation, Rebbe Natan explains, is to galvanize each of us to find our way to God. Each new revelation is an etzah – a word of bold advice on how to break through the obstacles that we face in our lives. It is an insight how to convert the divine livingness from latent possibility into full outer manifestation – how to reveal the power and beauty of heaven upon earth.

And it is our desire for God, our longing for holiness, Rebbe Natan asserts, that fuels this journey and gives us the strength to delve ever deeper and discover ever loftier truths. This longing compels us to continually look for new etzot, new ways to reach out toward God, unexplored paths to greater self-knowledge – creative approaches that will further actualize our spiritual potential. This spiritual yearning empowers us to fulfill our lives in the highest, to move from level to level until we touch the Infinite, the Ein Sof.

We can see this process of divine unfoldment at work in the larger framework of our lives as well. Swami Muktananda of Rishikesh teaches: “God is there in the form of peace but also as absence.” No matter how we may feel about our relationship with the Eternal One, “God is always present. Your experience, whatever it may be, is His way of expressing himself in you.” [2]

Sometimes we think that God has left us, that He or She is absent, but what is really happening is that the Most High has chosen to reveal Him or Herself to us in a new and completely different fashion. As the Baal Shem Tov teaches: every meeting, every encounter is an opportunity to know the Holy One, blessed be He. Or as Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook expresses it:

“The voice of Oneness is always calling out to us from the highest realms of holiness, from the source of all knowledge. We need only listen to its words. We each hear the supernal voice according to the level of our purity and refinement. The more we are able to listen and receive its call, the more our path forward will be illuminated, and the walls between God and us will come tumbling down, so that a clear direct light and call from the Source of life will enter into our hearts and minds.” [3]

The Torah, then, is ever-unfolding in the events of our lives and the larger world around us. By being aware of this continual divine revelation, we fulfill the Biblical commandment to stand at the foot of Sinai every day.  Our aspiration is to experience God’s truth in every moment – to see the divinity in front of us all of the time.

Rabbi Joshua ben Levi met the prophet Elijah standing by the entrance to Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai’s tomb. He asked him: …”When will the Messiah come?” — “Go and ask him yourself,” was his reply. “Where is he sitting?” — “at the gates of Rome.” – Tractate Sanhedrin 98a

We seek God at Mount Sinai, and we search for Him in Jerusalem, but this passage from the Talmud comes to tell us that sometimes the path to the timeless all-encompassing One is found in the most unlikely of places.

Just before the revelation at Sinai, the Torah recounts how Moses’ father-in-law, Yitro, came to meet him in the desert. During his stay with Moses and the Children of Israel, Yitro saw Moses struggling to oversee all of the judicial needs of the people. Yitro then advised Moses how to organize the people and create a system of judges to help him carry the burden of leadership.

Why does this episode come just before the revelation at Sinai? Because this encounter is a taste of the future. The story of the Midianite high priest Yitro giving the Israelite Moses advice and help is a forerunner of the exchanges between the different world religions today. In our time, our influx of divine knowledge has expanded to include all of humankind.

Rebbe Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev expounds on this concept. The Midrash [4], he says, tells us that God first offered the Torah to the other nations but they rejected it. Nonetheless, he explains, one part of them did want to receive the Torah and this spiritual desire left a rishima – an impression or imprint in their collective consciousness. That ancient impression or spark of truth is now being raised whenever a Jew meets a non-Jew. [5]

We can think of these spiritual impressions as lost sparks that have fallen into the klipot (the husks of darkness) and are waiting for us to redeem them, or we can think of them as new divine revelations that are being birthed into existence through the unprecedented spiritual exchanges occurring between the world religions today. Encountering the wisdom of other faiths, especially the Eastern religions, has opened new doors of understanding for many in our own tradition. Recognizing the divine sparks contained in their scriptures has unlocked a dimension of the Torah that we was hidden from us until now. Viewing the Jewish sources through the spiritual perspective of other faiths has revealed yet another face of the shivim panim of the Torah in quite an unexpected way.

Each year on Shavuot, we keep vigil throughout the night waiting for the revelation at dawn. We dive deep inside our being to find the Word of God that is there. Sometimes the revelation comes in a great flash of insight, and sometimes as a series of smaller, more modest illuminations. And sometimes, it is just a tingling feeling buried inside us of which we are barely aware.

Whatever way God speaks to us on Shavuot night it is a divine gift of great value. This personal revelation, however, is only the beginning of our charge. We then need to use all the powers at our disposal to integrate that vision into our consciousness, to discover how to make it a vibrant part of our lives. Rav Kook beautifully portrays this inner process:

“We look at exalted concepts in the fortified secret place [within ourselves] even though they are incomprehensible to us because of their great brilliance, even though they frighten us because of their great awesomeness, and we go back to them using the power of our mind once it has settled from the [higher] vision. And over time, the influence on the mind and the moral character, the strength of the soul and its holy splendor, the renewal of Spirit, and the wholeness of our inner selfhood, moves from potential to action, and is revealed in a profound personal growth which comes from self-knowledge that is immersed in the life-giving dew of humility and purity.” [6]

Whether we plunge into a penetrating study of Judaism’s riches, contemplate the tradition through the mirror glass of other religions, or seek out the silence and clarity of our tabula rasa nature, Shavuot is an opportunity for each of us to receive a new revelation. It is a chance to cleanse and purify our hearts. On Shavuot night, we open our minds to wider realities and more expansive visions. At dawn, we channel the life-giving waters of boundless divine truth into our thirsty world.

 

Copyright © 2016, by Yoel Glick

 

 

 

 

Acknowledgements    (↵ returns to text)

  1. Natan of Nemirov, Otzar haYirah: Teshuvat Hashanah: Pesach veShavuot, # 107
  2. Muktananda of Rishikesh, Awakening to the Infinite, p. 87
  3. Abraham Isaac Kook, Orot haKodesh I, Shaar II, The Movement of the Soul # 7
  4.  Sifrei, Deuteronomy 33:2
  5. Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, Kedushat Levi on Shavuot vehaya im shamoa tishmeu bekoli
  6. Abraham Isaac Kook, Orot Hakodesh II, Shaar I, Seder V: Our Selfhood and the Inner Battle #82 – Self-Knowledge