Sarah Yehudit Schneider
Shavuot, the anniversary of the Torah’s revelation, is called the marriage ceremony between the Jewish people and HaShem. Just as a wedding formalizes and makes public the bond of commitment between a man and a woman, thereby permitting them to enter into physical intimacy, so the revelation of the Torah — its mitzvot and their acceptance by the people — introduced a parallel dimension of intimacy between humanity and G‑d. It enabled the soul to have a physical relationship with its Creator that was formally sanctified, for its body could now also unite with HaShem, fully, in the moment of mitzvah.
Before a couple enters into marriage, they can relate on every level except the physical. They can feel and express deep emotional, intellectual, and spiritual intimacy. It is only physical union which is denied them. Similarly, before the giving of Torah, a person’s spiritual service could be quite passionate — motivated by deep love, fear, and knowledge of G‑d. We see this clearly with the Patriarchs and Matriarchs. Their love and fear and consuming devotion to G‑d was infinitely beyond what we can glimpse, let alone attain. Nevertheless, HaShem did not command them concerning the mitzvot. Since He did not specify to them what action He wanted on the physical plane, how it should be performed, and with which materials, the Patriarchs and Matriarchs could not express this ultimate state of surrender to their Creator by joyfully submitting body as well as soul to His will. Their bodies fulfilled their commands, not the commands of the Creator. The physical could not enter into direct relationship with G‑d because His will for the physical was not yet revealed. The counterpart of marriage in the soul’s relationship to G-d did not exist.
The mechanism is as follows: Mitzvah, by definition, is an explicit statement of Divine will. The Cosmic Mind articulates His desire in an absolutely explicit and unambiguous form. “I want you to do this…I do not want you to do that.” The command furthermore defines a particular action in this world. For example, striking a match and lighting candles before the sun sets on Friday, or reading aloud the story of the Exodus from Egypt as recorded in the hagada on Pesach. The body becomes the focus (to some extent) of the mitzvah since its movements are the necessary means by which the request can be fulfilled. Thus the command spans from the highest height to the lowest depth. It emanates from a Source beyond the will and initiative of the person himself (i.e. the transcendent will of the Creator) and defines in explicit detail the physical gestures and material accessories required for its satisfaction.
Therefore, at the moment of performing the mitzvah, every level of the person from highest to lowest, as well as the physical accessories, become completely submitted to G‑d’s will, and are permanently altered by that experience. Before the giving of Torah, such total surrender on every level was not possible, for the self had to design its own devotion. Even when “self” is the highest, most sublime and spiritual identity of a person, nevertheless, it is still “self” and as such remains an “entity” unto itself, intrinsically apart from its Creator.
Only when the self can submit itself to an explicit request does the final barrier to union dissolve. The lowest and most physical level of a person can now also enter into active spiritual service. HaShem specifically requested the body to perform this particular task, so in the moment of fulfillment the body becomes nothing but an instrument of Divine will, a limb, so to speak, of the Creator. At that point the impossible is accomplished: the Infinite (G‑d) dwells within the finite (a human body). A profound unity is forged.
The body can only surrender to its Creator completely when the Creator’s desire for the body is known. The beam of Divine will did not extend to the physical dimension of humanity before Sinai, for only then were the mitzvot (as Divine requests) formally conveyed. Until then, metaphorically speaking, one could opt for celibacy or an unsanctified relationship. The marriage canopy did not yet exist. This is the unavoidable situation when a person must rely on his own intuitive sense of what the Creator’s desires may be. There always remains a thin veil of self which prevents the soul’s consummate union with its Beloved. This deficiency mirrors itself below for the union does not extend to fully embrace the body. The spiritual equivalent of physical intimacy does not take place, and the marriage cannot consummate. Conversely, when we enter into the beam of will that constitutes a mitzvah our existential state of separation from G‑d is suspended for that moment. We enter the most profound state of union with G‑d that is possible in this world (or any world for that matter).
Let it be on this Shavuot, as the Torah is revealed anew, that we rededicate ourselves to the blessed gift of our holy mitzvot. Let every layer of our selves—our head, our heart and even our body—know, from direct experience, the pure and utter joy of serving God. And let this holy delight reverberate out to the far corners of the earth, and let it bring healing and awakening and redemption, Now.