This evening (Tuesday, May 18, 2010) the Jewish holiday of Shavuot begins. It is understood to be a celebration of the giving of Torah, and more specifically, the ten commandments at Mt. Sinai. For those of us who do not believe in a literal interpretation of sacred text, we speak more generally of “revelation” at Sinai, hoping to be able to skirt the issue of human/Divine interface. Yet this holiday, more than any other, calls me to question and think about what I mean when I speak about Divine Revelation.
What I don’t mean is pretty simple. I do not believe that God dictated the Torah to Moses on Mt. Sinai. While we are taught that God speaks in the language of humanity, I believe this means that we hear God through the words of those we interact with on a daily basis, not that God literally speaks in human language.
In truth, I’m not sure that there was a historical Sinai event, with the entirety of the Israelite people gathered at the foot of the mountain. If push comes to shove, I’ll even admit the historical evidence for such an event is weak. Nonetheless, I think the holiday of Shavuot does celebrate something important.
Revelation is not a one time thing. We are taught that all Jewish souls, whether alive at that time, or later to be born, were present at Sinai for revelation. I understand this to mean that we all have our own moments of revelation in our lives. Revelation was not a one-time event, but rather an ongoing process. Each of us in our lives has the possibility of experiencing revelation, whether in the sudden inspiration which solves a problem we’ve been working on, the transcendent appreciation of nature’s beauty, or in studying an ancient text which seems to speak to us as meaningfully today as when it was first set to paper.
Revelation is not necessarily supernatural. It is not necessarily accompanied by thunder and lightening. Rather, revelation is that moment when the curtain is drawn back, and we see things in a new and different way. Tonight, we celebrate our ability to see the world anew.