Who does the Torah belong to?

On Shavuot we recall a very special moment in our history in which we went from being a tribe to being a people. According to our tradition this revelation occurred at Mt. Sinai where we received the Torah.

One question that is worth considering is to whom the Torah was given?

As you know, within our people there are distinct groups that claim exclusive ownership over the Torah and they present themselves as the only true heirs, deny any else’s link to the Torah.

The question can be divided into various categories:

The Torah—to whom was it given?

If we decide that it was given only to the generation at Mt. Sinai, then we must then ask if it was given to all of them or only to a certain part of the people?

If we decide that that Torah was given not just to the generation of Mt. Sinai, we must ask ourselves then to which generation?

The response to each of these questions has its own ideological consequences. Let us review the Biblical text and some of the midrashim in order to get a possible answer to these questions.

And the Lord said to Moses, “Go to the people and warn them to stay pure today and tomorrow. Let htem was their clothes. Let them be drady for the third day; for on the third day the LORD will come down, in the sight of all the people, on Mt. Sinai. (Exodus 19:10-11)

Moses Led the people out of the camp toward God, and they took their places at the foot of the mountain. (Exodus 19:17)

י וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֶל-מֹשֶׁה לֵךְ אֶל-הָעָם, וְקִדַּשְׁתָּם הַיּוֹם וּמָחָר; וְכִבְּסוּ, שִׂמְלֹתָם.  יא וְהָיוּ נְכֹנִים, לַיּוֹם הַשְּׁלִישִׁי:  כִּי בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁלִשִׁי, יֵרֵד יְהוָה לְעֵינֵי כָל-הָעָם–עַל-הַר סִינָי:

יז וַיּוֹצֵא מֹשֶׁה אֶת-הָעָם לִקְרַאת הָאֱלֹהִים, מִן-הַמַּחֲנֶה; וַיִּתְיַצְּבוּ, בְּתַחְתִּית הָהָר.

The verses are very clear that ALL the people were together in Mt. Sinai, without distinction between old and young, men and women, educated and ignorant, believers and non-believers. It is said that there was no diferenciation or distinction between them and there was complete equality between them.

If we continue our search, we will find in Parashat Nitzavim:

To the end that He may establish you this day as His people and be your God, as He promised toy and as He swore to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. I make this covenant, with its sanctions, not with you alone, but both with those who are standing here with us this day before the LORD our God and with those who are not with us here this day. (Deuteronomy 29: 13-15)

יב לְמַעַן הָקִים-אֹתְךָ הַיּוֹם לוֹ לְעָם, וְהוּא יִהְיֶה-לְּךָ לֵאלֹהִים–כַּאֲשֶׁר, דִּבֶּר-לָךְ; וְכַאֲשֶׁר נִשְׁבַּע לַאֲבֹתֶיךָ, לְאַבְרָהָם לְיִצְחָק וּלְיַעֲקֹב.  יג וְלֹא אִתְּכֶם, לְבַדְּכֶם–אָנֹכִי, כֹּרֵת אֶת-הַבְּרִית הַזֹּאת, וְאֶת-הָאָלָה, הַזֹּאת.  יד כִּי אֶת-אֲשֶׁר יֶשְׁנוֹ פֹּה, עִמָּנוּ עֹמֵד הַיּוֹם, לִפְנֵי, יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ; וְאֵת אֲשֶׁר אֵינֶנּוּ פֹּה, עִמָּנוּ הַיּוֹם.

The Midrash explains that the meeting was with all the generations—that of Mt. Sinai and all the generations to come, as if to say that we all were present there along with all future generations as well. This Midrash appears to be a great metaphor encompassing a very important message. All generations are equal when it comes to revelation and the covenant is the same for all generations.

That is to say:

Nobody owns the Torah

It is equally pertinent to us all

So consider this over Shavuot:

The Torah was given to us all—to receive and to be received……

The Torah is a daily choice that each of us must make, we must simply take it out from the Aron HaKodesh and bring it into our lives. We do this with each of our actions, not only in the ark in the Synagogue, but each and every day. As I often say, if you the daily paper through the lens of the Torah, you will see the world as being based on the Torah.

And now you know—you too are the owner of the Torah and therefore you must decide if you will pass it on to others, or if you will begin to live it now. As it says in Pirkei Avot: if not now, when?

Chag Shavuot Samech!

Rabbi Mauricio Balter

Executive Director, Masorti Olami and MERCAZ Olami