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Unity at Sinai

Friday, 14 February, 2020 - 12:08 pm


They came from all walks of life… Students from Harvard, Yale and Princeton; Auto workers from Michigan, Farm boys from Kansas; and Coal miners from Kentucky all huddled together in the landing craft with a single mission: The liberation of mainland Europe from Nazi German oppression.

Socio-political divisions that we talk about today (like Blue, Red, and Purple States) did not exist when our troops were huddled together on the way to the landing beaches. They were a band of brothers with a single mission and would give their lives to save their friend right next to them.

All together, over the course of one month, thirty-nine Allied divisions landed in Normandy: twenty-two from the USA, twelve British, three Canadian, one Polish, and one French, totaling over one million troops. They were unified with a single purpose: the liberation of mainland Europe from Nazi German oppression.

The invasion fleet was drawn from eight different Navies, comprising 6,939 vessels: 1,213 warships, 4,126 transport vessels, and 736 ancillary craft and 864 merchant vessels. There was a total number of 195,700 naval personnel (; All unified with a single purpose: the liberation of mainland Europe from Nazi German oppression.

“We have come to the hour for which we were born”, announced Mayor Fiorello La Guardia of New York. Hundreds of thousands of worshippers gathered to their houses of prayer across the nation. “In office buildings and on assembly lines, men and women spontaneously halted work, put their hands over their hearts, and prayed before returning to their tasks. At the same time masses of people flooded to the hospitals to donate blood.”

Sensing the mood of a very anxious country, President Roosevelt was quoted as saying, “Give us faith in Thee; faith in our sons; faith in each other...”

We just marked the 75th Anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz – January 1945.

The successful invasion of Europe begun at Normandy was the catalyst to the victory of World War II.

That collective euphoric feeling of the free world, was poignantly expressed in the New Yorker Magazine as a “Colossal moment in history

Ah! If we could only realize that moment more often in our dealings with each other, and collectively as a nation.

General Dwight Eisenhower

General Eisenhower was a five-star general in the Army and served as Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force in Europe. He was responsible for planning and supervising the successful invasion of Normandy in 1944–45. He later became the 34th President of the United States. Upon his retirement in 1960 he asked that the law be changed for him to be able to revert back to the title of “General” in place of “Mr. President” – (That’s for a separate column).

Historians say he was primarily chosen for his unique temperament and strategic brilliance –keeping all the personalities, such as General George Patton and General Bernard Montgomery, under one roof was not an easy chore.

In April 1945, the Americans liberated the concentration camp of Buchenwald. After General Eisenhower, accompanied by General Patton, among others, visited the camp he immediately sent a telegram to Washington requesting a delegation of Senators and Congressmen come to Europe to bear witness to the atrocities perpetrated by the Germans. He also gave an order for the atrocities to be filmed and documented for the education of future generations.

Among the delegation was a young Congressman from Everett who later became Senator of Washington State, the famous Henry Jackson. Many observers feel that Senator Henry Jackson was the best friend that the Israel ever had, and as one of our community leaders, Dr. Abe Bergman emotionally told me years ago, “We could speak in front of Senator Jackson as one of our own.”

It was Senator Jackson who demanded of then Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, that the planes loaded with armaments in Europe be immediately allowed to leave and land in Israel, because of the emergency depletion of its armaments. This happened in the most trying hours during the Yom Kippur war, after a personal plea by then Prime Minister, Golda Meir, to then President, Richard Nixon. The President had already agreed to the air lift.

The Mountain

“In the third month from the Exodus of the Children of Israel from Egypt, on this day, they arrived at the Wilderness of Sinai.  They journeyed from Rephidim and arrived at the Wilderness of Sinai and encamped in the Wilderness; and Israel encamped there, opposite the mountain.” (Exodus 19, 1-2)

“And Israel encamped there”, says Rashi, “as one man with one heart.”

Notwithstanding, the different levels of spiritual development and position (Moses-Aaron-The elders-“to the hewer of your wood to the draw of your water”, Deuteronomy 27/10) to the order in which the twelve tribes traveled (those who lead, those who were in the back and on the sides), to the different families among the Levites, at Mount Sinai they were totally unified as one man with one heart.

The Mission

“And Moses ascended to God, and Hashem called to him from the mountain, saying, ‘So shall you say to the House of Jacob and tell to the Sons of Israel. You have seen what I did to Egypt, and that I carried you on the wings of eagles and brought you to Me. And now, if you hearken well to Me and you will keep My covenant, you will be a treasure to Me from among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine. You will be to Me a kingdom of ministers and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the children of Israel.” (Shemos/Exodus – Parashas Yisro: 19/6-7)

Joining the Physical and the Spiritual

From the talks of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, OBM

David said: “The Holy One, blessed be He, decreed, ‘The heavens are the heavens of G‑d, and the earth He gave to men....’ Nevertheless, when He desired to give the Torah, He nullified that original decree and said, ‘The lower realms shall ascend to the higher realms and the higher realms shall descend to the lower. And I shall take the initiative.’ As it is written, ‘And G‑d descended on Mount Sinai,’ and ‘To Moshe, He said Ascend to G‑d.’”

In other words: According to the original pattern of crea­tion, the material and the spiritual were confined to separate realms of existence, to discrete planes that never converge. The ultimate divine intent, however, was to fuse the two, so that the underlying G‑dliness would surface within our material world.

Because G‑d’s essence is truly unlimited, this is possible: the spiritual can descend and become manifest within our world, and our worldly experience can be elevated beyond material concerns and become an expression of spiritual truth.

“No Longer in the Heavens”

This fusion cannot be accomplished through human en­terprise alone: it is possible only because (as G‑d says) “I shall take the initiative.” This is what is unique about the Giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. The divine revelations before Sinai had not been not intended to resolve the funda­mental conflict between the spiritual and the material; the revelation at Sinai, by contrast, was intended to permeate the totality of existence.

And this it did. “No bird chirped, no fowl took flight...” — the entire natural order came to a standstill. Moreover, “His voice did not have an echo.” Instead of rebounding, G‑d’s voice permeated the material substance of the world. From that moment onward, “The Torah is not in the heavens,” but rather part and parcel of the environment in which we live.

So that the World Itself Should See

This was, however, merely the beginning of a process. The ultimate purpose of eliminating the gap between spirituality and material existence was the second phase, “And Moshe ascended to G‑d,” i.e., that man should elevate himself and the material environment in which he lives.

As long as the connection between man, the world, and G‑d is dependent on G‑d alone, the fusion between these elements is incomplete. If G‑dliness permeates the world only as a result of a revelation from above, the world remains — at least from its own earthbound perspective — separate from G‑d. This may be understood by comparing the world to a student who is able to arrive at a concept only when nurtured by his teacher’s explanations. Only when he has reached the point at which he can conceive of the idea on his own, can we say that his thought processes have fully matured.

The service of G‑d epitomized in the phrase, “And Moshe ascended to G‑d,” demonstrates just such a process of matu­ration within man and within the world at large. Man’s divine service refines the world and transforms it into a vessel for G‑dliness, enabling the world and its inhabitants to perceive G‑dliness not as an externally supplied factor, but rather as the truth of its own existence.20

The consummation of our efforts to refine the world will come in the Era of the Redemption when we will merit the fulfillment of the prophecy, “And all flesh will together see that the mouth of G‑d has spoken” — not that the revelation from above will be so intense as to reach down to our material realm, but that material flesh will have an independent appreciation of G‑dliness.

That era is fast approaching. “All the spiritual tasks G‑d has demanded of the Jewish people have been completed.... All that is necessary now is for each of us to open his eyes.” And then we will behold the ultimate purpose of the Giving of the Torah — the manifestation of G‑d’s presence through­out the world. May this take place speedily in our days.

The Ten Commandments

And G‑d came down upon Mount Sinai, on the top of the mountain. And G‑d called Moses up to the top of the mount; and Moses went up....

And G‑d spoke all these words, saying:

  1. I am G‑d your G‑d, who has brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
  2. You shall have no other gods beside Me. You shall not make for yourself any carved idol, or any likeness of any thing... you shall not bow down to them, nor serve them...
  3. You shall not take the name of G‑d your G‑d in vain...
  4. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shall you labor, and do all your work; but the seventh day is a Sabbath to G‑d... For in six days G‑d made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore G‑d blessed the Sabbath day, and hallowed it.
  5. Honor your father and your mother...
  6. You shall not murder.
  7. You shall not commit adultery.
  8. You shall not steal.
  9. You shall not bear false witness against your fellow.
  10. You shall not covet... anything that is your fellow'

This Shabbos, Parshas Yisro, February 15, we will be reading in all Synagogues the Ten Commandments. Please everyone – Men, Women, and Children – Make an effort to join together in recommitting ourselves to the ideals encompassed within.

Wishing you all a beautiful and transformative Shabbos.
In Friendship,
Rabbi Levitin

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