Shavuot is the festival that celebrates the giving and the receiving of Torah. The theological pillar of the festival is revelation. Revelation of the words of Torah and a revelation that continues to this very day when each day we have the opportunity to study, reflect, and meditate. Every time we study Torah, we can experience this revelation. At Pesach, we take to heart the injunction to see ourselves as if we were personally redeemed from Egypt, that we were one of the 600,000.
There is a beautiful teaching found in the mystical tradition of Judaism that lifts up the number 600,000 from the Exodus and brings to light an incredible point of personal and communal connection. The
states that there are 600,000 letters in the
each of which correspond to the 600,000 souls of the 12 tribes of the Jewish people at the time of the Exodus. Building on this teaching, the
writes that the soul of every Jew stems from one of the 600,000 letters in the Torah. The name "
" itself is an acronym for the words, "
Yesh Shishim Ribo Osiyot La-Torah
" ("there are 60 myriads (600,000) of letters in the Torah").
What an incredible idea to bring forward today. Each of us is to imagine that we were one of the 600,000 redeemed from Egypt. Each one of us is represented in the Torah by one of the 600,000 letters. Now before we get too far ahead of ourselves. We know that the exact number of the letters in a Sefer Torah is a little more than half of 600,000.
For our sages of blessed memory this is not a challenge but an opportunity to derive even more meaning. In the Jerusalem Talmud, Rabbi Pinchas taught-in the name of Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish-the Torah which the Holy Blessed One gave to Moses was white fire inscribed with black fire; fire mixed with fire, cleaved from fire and given from/by fire, as it is written: "From God's right a fiery law to them."
Rav Abraham Isaac Kook, wrote, "When we think about a Torah scroll, we usually only consider the letters themselves, written in black ink. Yet, the Talmud rules that every letter in a Torah scroll must be completely surrounded by parchment…the white parchment around the letters is an integral part of the Torah; without it, the Torah scroll is disqualified." So, too, are each and every one of us an integral part of Torah and a part of the community of Israel. May our celebration of Shavuot connect us more deeply to Torah as we see ourselves written within and our souls intertwined with one another.
Rabbi Paul F. Cohen, D.Min., D.D. is Senior Rabbi of Temple Jeremiah in Northfield.