Shavuot 5783: Standing Together at Sinai

Individuality within Unity: The Lesson of Sinai

Rabbi Dr. Meesh Hammer-Kossoy | Director of the Year Program
May 11, 2023

The Sinai experience is characterized by two apparently conflicting experiences. National unity and individual uniqueness.

Rashi Exodus 19:2 – “And Israel encamped there—as a single individual, united in heart and mind.”

In other cases, the Israelites encamp in the plural. But at Sinai, they do so in the singular. Rashi explains that when we stood together at Sinai, we were a single entity. And yet, the Torah was revealed to each of us personally and separately, as the midrash explains:

Exodus Rabbah 5:9 – It states (Psalms 29:4), “The voice of the Lord is in strength” – it is not stated, “in His strength,” but rather “in strength”; in the strength of each and every one.

Each member of Israel received a customized revelation with “accommodations”:

Ibid.the elders according to their strength; the young men according to their strength; the infants according to their strength; the sucklings according to their strength; the women according to their strength; and even Moshe according to his strength.

We heard the Torah in a voice and cadence that was designed just for us as individuals.

The Divine spoke to each one of us. Every individual was seen and spoken to directly and personally with all of our uniqueness.

This is the magic formula to Jewish success in general, and of course Pardes in particular. Let us be part of a mammoth project, our great national mission transcends us as individuals. We encamp as a single entity. And yet, each of us, in our fulness, with our idiosyncratic and precious individuality has an essential role to play in the destiny of the nation and even the world.

It is no coincidence that Shavuot coincides with reading the beginning of Bamidbar, with its portrayal of the camp—every person with their flag according to their tribe surrounding the ark of the covenant.

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