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 In Yavneh News

Something amazing happened to me this past week.

I sat on a Zoom call with 10 other people, in a mixture of silence and song, with our videos turned off. The facilitator asked a simple question, “What have you given your attention to today?” and for close to 90 minutes it was the most present I’ve been on Zoom over the last 11 weeks. For me, as is probably true for most of you, who are trying to learn and work over online platforms, be it Zoom or others, your gatherings are probably not usually silent.

Tonight we begin the holiday of Shavuot. One aspect of the holiday is the commemoration of the moment of revelation at Mt. Sinai and through the giving of the Torah, the Jewish people and God entering into relationship. If one reads the moment of revelation as it is described in the Torah it is an overstimulating multi-sensory experience, the people see sounds and hear images, the mountain is described as shaking, a shofar blasts, smoke is rising, clouds are descending. How did the people know where to direct their attention at this sacred moment of making a commitment to agree to live their lives in a certain way? It seems like it would have been really hard to focus, to connect and to pay attention to the essence of the experience.

There is a midrash in our tradition that I have always loved that stands at the opposite end of this cacophonous theophany. It teaches that the moment of revelation, the moment of entering into a partnership between the Jewish people and God was actually one of silence. The first letter of the first commandment is aleph, and aleph is actually a silent letter, without any vowels aleph doesn’t make any noise. Perhaps the teaching says, all that was spoken at the moment of revelation was actually the letter aleph and everything else came later.

A moment of silence, in the midst of over-stimulation, that feels like something, if I had been at Mt. Sinai (and another midrash does indeed say we were all there in an outside of time and space way) I could give my attention to. So tonight as we celebrate Shavuot and celebrate this Sinai experience as we recommit ourselves to the covenant of Torah, I invite you to ask yourself, What have you given your attention to today? Not what has occupied your attention, or what you have unconsciously given your attention to, but what have you purposely given your attention to and what will you choose to give your attention to tomorrow and everyday after?

Chag Sameach