Ex. 19:1 – 20:23; Num. 28:26-31
Rabbi Gary Pokras
As we celebrate our zman matan Torah, our festival of the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, we often focus on chapter 20 of Exodus: the 10 Commandments themselves. However, there is rich learning available to us in the immediate lead-up to Sinai. Towards the beginning of our festival parasha God commands Moses to speak these words to the Israelites:
“You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Me. Now then, if you will obey Me faithfully and keep My covenant, you shall be My treasured possession among all the peoples. Indeed, all the earth is Mine, but you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” [Ex. 19:4-6 (bold is mine)]
What does it mean to be “treasured” by God?
There is no easy answer.
How would you feel if you knew, if you really knew, that you are a treasure to God?
Torah teaches us that we are – so long as we treasure God in return, by following Torah and living upright Jewish lives. Shavuot is our annual and quite dramatic reminder not only of the Revelation at Sinai, but of our ability to become God’s treasured possession if we but choose to take Torah to heart.
For me, there is a direct connection between this teaching, and the Torah portion we will read on the Shabbat the day after Shavuot this year: Naso. In Naso we encounter the famous three-part priestly blessing which begins with the words:
יְבָרֶכְךָ יְהוָה וְיִשְׁמְרֶךָ
Y’varech’cha Adonai v’yishm’recha [Num. 6:24]
This verse is usually translated as “may God bless you and keep you (or guard/protect you).” However, when I offer this blessing, I translate it as “May God bless you and treasure you.” I initially chose this translation because the last word in the verse, vayish’merecha, shares a root with the word shomeir. A shomeir is a guard, and historically, guards were often tasked with protecting the royal treasuries. I interpreted this verse to ask that God value us as treasured beings.
Over time, I have come to see a connection between this blessing and the holy day of Shavuot. I no longer believe this verse asks for an active blessing from God to be passively received by the recipient. “May God treasure you” for me now acknowledges the reciprocal nature of the Covenant. The long form translation (which is far too clunky for liturgical use) is something like this: “May you walk the way of Torah so as to fulfill God’s commandments and thereby become a treasure to your God.”
Shavuot is our zman matan Torah, our festival of the giving and gifting of the Torah by God. May we all use this gift to fulfill the blessing and make ourselves treasures to our Creator.