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Sinai for Non-Jews

May 31, 2011 | by Rabbi Benjamin Blech

What makes the giving of the Torah so universally relevant and necessary?

It isn't only Jews who should be celebrating the holiday of Shavuot.

You don't have to be Jewish, nor do you have to be religious, to acknowledge that what happened on Mount Sinai was one of the most important moments in the history of civilization.

Even the reason for the choice of the particular location on which the 10 Commandments were given is meant to emphasize the universality of their message. Why is it, the biblical commentators ask, God chose to transmit his moral code on a mountain in the desert rather than to wait until the Jews would come to the holy land of Israel? Precisely for this reason: Israel is a land for the Jews; the desert is ownerless ― and hence belongs equally to everyone.

God's words weren't intended just for one people. They were meant for the whole world because they represent the key to universal survival.

What makes the message of Sinai so universally relevant and necessary?

Simply put, it is the idea of law, the concept of "do this" and "do not do that." It is the notion that some things are right and some things are wrong. It is the rejection of cultural relativism that sees some good in everything no matter how heinous because "who is to say that what we think is more correct than what they believe."

There's no lack of excuses in the liberal lexicon. One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter. People steal because they are poor. People murder because they feel deprived as a result of the way life has mistreated them. People do all kinds of bad things and we have to be fair before judging them to determine whether they had enough love as a child, whether the guilt may not be theirs but rather the fault of society.

The lyrics of Gee Officer Krupke in West Side Story brilliantly capture the flavor of this flawed philosophy:

Dear kindly Sergeant Krupke,
You gotta understand,
It's just our bringin' up-ke
That gets us out of hand.
Our mothers all are junkies,
Our fathers all are drunks.
Golly Moses, natcherly we're punks!

God has more faith in mankind than those who claim that people have to be forgiven no matter what because they just can't help being evil.

Everyone has a reason for what they do. Hitler found a way to justify genocide as a means to bring about a superior race. Cultural relativism has to admit that it's possible he was right. And for all we know, as some prominent psychologist dared to suggest, his mother's failure to breast-feed him sufficiently may have caused feelings of love deprivation that of course produced self-hatred, which turned outward, resulted in the need to murder 6 million Jews…

Reasons to commit evil are not the same as justifications.

We are expected to abide by God's rules no matter what, for without them society cannot survive.

Poor people don't necessarily have to turn to crime. Just last week, we watched Oprah Winfrey retire after 25 years. She reviewed her career that began in rural Mississippi, in extreme poverty, followed by her rise to become one of the most powerful and influential women in the world. No matter how disadvantaged, we are granted free will and the opportunity to make our choices in life.

And from the mountaintop of Sinai God taught the world that there are absolutes, that there are rules we are expected to abide by no matter what our excuse, because without them society cannot survive.

"Thou shalt not murder" – no matter why you think it doesn't apply to you.

"Thou shalt not commit adultery" – even if your own wife doesn't understand you, the other woman is more beautiful, and besides "who will get hurt, if no one finds out?"

"Thou shalt not steal" – even if with your newfound wealth you become a great philanthropist and have your name plastered on buildings and dedications.

The Decalogue has only 172 words. Not one of them is "except." They are clear and to the point. They are rooted in truth and represent the words of the Creator of the world.

Their power rests in their Divine source. Without them and their moral force, the world would long ago have perished.

The heroine of Shavuot is Ruth. It is her book that we read on this holiday. Why was she chosen for this honor?

Even though she was not born a Jewess, she found her way to the truth of that Torah given in the desert intended for all mankind. And that's why she became the ancestress of King David from whom will stem the Messiah – the one who will bring the whole world at long last to accept the gift meant for all that was given at Sinai.

Isn't that reason enough for everybody to rejoice on this holiday?

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