Redemption Comes at Sinai

Passover and Shavuot are part of one spiritual journey.

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Another way to think of the dichotomy between "teva" and "limalah min hatevah" is physical versus spiritual. Strictly speaking, the holiday of Passover is "a seven," it is a holiday of seven days, and thus relates to the physical. While the events of Passover are no doubt supernatural (the plagues, the splitting of the Red Sea, etc.), what we are celebrating in essence is our redemption from the physical bonds of slavery in Egypt.

The exodus from Egypt, however, was only the first step in our transformation into Am Yisrael, or the Jewish people.

In his commentary on the Torah, Rabbi Obadiah Sforno (Exodus 6:7) remarks that God uses four different expressions of redemption in reference to the exodus, and that each of these expressions corresponds to a different phase of our true redemption. The first, "Vehotzaiti," or "and I will extract you," symbolizes the cessation of physical slavery. The second, "Vehotzalti," or "and I will save you," refers to the Jews actually leaving the land of Egypt. The third, "Vega’alti," or "and I will redeem you," marks the Jews’ crossing of the Red Sea and the destruction of their tormentors. But the final expression and final stage of the exodus, "Velakachti," or "and I will take you," was not completed until the Jewish people accepted the Torah at Mount Sinai. 

Simply put, the reason why the Jewish people were taken out of Egypt was to receive the Torah. The exodus alone granted us physical freedom, but it was freedom without purpose. It was the acceptance of the Torah at Sinai that solidified our nation-hood, as the verse mentioned above says, "and I will take you to me for a people and I shall be a God to you." There is a one-to-one connection between the covenant with God and the Jews’ status as a people.

Thus, Shavuot serves as the final "day" of Passover, the last step in our redemption from Egypt and our ascent to be the people of God. But the question remains: If Shavuot is really like the eighth day of Passover, why do we celebrate it almost two months later? 

The answer is in the spiritual journey. It’s important to assess the character of the Jews at that time. The Zohar teaches that during their time in Egypt, the Jews had sunk to the 49th level of tuma, spiritual impurity, perilously close to the fiftieth level from which no one can be redeemed. Spending over two hundred years entrenched in a land of immorality and idolatry had left the Jews almost devoid of their spiritual connection to God.

Plainly, this could not stand; the Jews needed to receive the Torah. But immediately upon exodus from Egypt, it would have been impossible for them to experience the revelation at Sinai in their present state. The spiritual impurity within them simply could not have withstood the direct revelation of God at Mount Sinai. So, a period of cleansing was in order, a seven-week interlude through which the Jews could rise from this 49th level of impurity. As each day passed they grew closer to God, until they reached the fiftieth day, when they were finally fit to receive the Torah.

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Rami Genauer is a writer living in Washington, DC.