The Greatest

(Torah Portion Bamidbar/Shavuos) The Greatest!

“I’m the greatest of all time!” I can vividly recall those boastful
words of the late boxer Muhammad Ali extolling his own
greatness pompously and haughtily.Yes, we all wish and hope for
greatness, but the evaluation of greatness should be realized by
an outside objective assessment not by one’s self.

At the Bris of an eight day old child, during the naming ceremony,
we declare, “This young infant shall become great!” We are already hopeful that this young infant will one day become great. The Hebrew word Godol means big as in adult and it also means great. Throughout the Torah the root word Godol comes up often and generally it describes someone or something that is great and awesome.

G-d tells Avraham, “I will make your name great.” The Torah describes how Yitzchok became exceedingly great. The High Priest was called the Kohain Godol. The last verse of the Torah testifies of the great wonders that Moshe performed in front of the Jewish people. The Megilla extols Mordechai’s greatness in the eyes of the Jews. The prophet calls the day that Elijah the prophet will herald the Moshiach as, “the great and awesome day.” And about the day Moshiach arrives it says, “a great Shofar sound will be heard.”

The Torah describes certain terrible sins as “great in magnitude.” Before the cities of Sedom and Amorah were destroyed by angels, the Torah states, “There was a great outcry from the cities.”

When Yosef was entreated by his master’s mistress, he refused to be intimate with her stating, “How can I do this greatly bad sin.” When the Jews sinned by the golden calf, the Torah describes it as a great sin. Many of G-d’s virtues and powers are described as great and awesome. Some examples: G-d’s great Name; great miracles He performed; His great strength; G-d’s great Hand; great Chesed; and we extol G-d’s greatness in our daily prayers by stating, G-d is Great, mighty and awesome.

Before we begin the afternoon prayers we recite a verse that states, “When we call out to the name of G-d, it brings greatness to G-d,” – for when we pray and place our trust in the Almighty, we display our trust in Him that He listens to us and answers our call. The Torah also speaks of the great vision that Moshe experienced at the burning bush, where he was instructed by G-d to lead the Jewish people out of Egypt and that on that same spot, Mount Sinai, G-d would reveal Himself to the Jews. All the miracles that G-d brought upon Egypt to convince the Pharoh to release the Jews are described as great.

At the end of Moshe’s life, 39 years after the Revelation, Moshe reminisces about the Revelation of G-d at Mount Sinai and speaks to the Nation of the great event. “You might inquire about times long past, going back to the time that G-d created man on earth, exploring one end of the heavens to the other. See if anything as great as this has ever happened or the like has ever been heard. Has any nation ever heard G-d speaking out of fire, as you have, and still survived. Has G-d ever done miracles bringing one nation out of another nation with such tremendous miracles, signs, wonders, war, a mighty hand and outstretched arm, and terrifying phenomena, as G-d did for you in Egypt before your eyes? You are the ones who have been shown, so that you will know that G-d is the Supreme Being and there is none besides Him. (Deuteronomy 4:32-35)”

Notice that the Torah does not instruct us to have faith – which connotes taking a blind leap of faith – rather, the Torah instructs us to know that G-d is the Supreme Being – our knowledge / clarity is based on the Torah’s account of G-d’s Revelation and His proclaiming the Ten Commandments witnessed by the entire Jewish nation. In addition, the Torah tells us that all the souls that would be born in the future were present at the Revelation. This means that each of us was there!

The Torah uses the words “Lo Yasuf” referring to the great sound of G-d proclaiming the Ten Commandments. The simple translation of this is that the proclamation will not be repeated. However, Targum translates “Lo Yasuf” to mean that the awesome sounds never stopped. This means that those awesome sounds are an everlasting entity, which can still somehow be accessed. This fits well with the dictum of our Sages that we should approach our service to G-d with an enthusiasm as if the Torah was given today. In fact, the blessing we recite over the Torah concludes with “Who gives the Torah” in the present tense, which reflects on this concept that the Torah is a living entity. Additionally, our Sages explain that although G-d’s proclamation was loud and thunderous, it only reached the ears of the Jewish people and the people of the nations of the world did not hear it.

Our observance of the Holiday of Shavuos – which marks the 3328th anniversary of the Revelation – is an expression of our identification with the Sinaitic experience of receiving the Torah from G-d Himself, and shows our eagerness to rejuvenate our unique relationship with the Almighty. G-d reciprocates and compliments us for our loyalty and takes pride in us by bearing in His Tefilin the verse, “Who is like My nation Israel among all nations of the land!”

Wishing you a most enjoyable & uplifting Shabbos and Yom Tov!
Rabbi Dovid Saks