On May 24 (Memorial Day weekend) we will celebrate the holiday of Shavu’ot, the holiday of the giving of the Torah. This is an appropriate time to contemplate its giving.
“Torah—and all its Rabbinic commentary was given to us in one great moment of revelation at Sinai” say some Jews. “Oh. no” say others—”it is a continuous process of revelation which has extended from Moses’ day to our own.”
Rabbi Emily Lipoff teaches “However Torah was given, the reception will vary somewhat and sometimes profoundly among those who receive it.”
The Literalists ask “Did the Sea really split in half to form a corridor, with walls of water? What are the ingredients for manna? Did each one of the six days of creation have exactly 24 hours?” They will dissect the teaching in search of authenticity. When they find some proof that any of these phenomena actually occurred, their reverence for Torah is enhanced.
The Halachists focus on the law which Torah dictates. For them, law is holiness. When they observe the laws of Kashrut or family purity; when they see to it that each piece of clothing they wear is all of one fabric—no mixtures—their personal sense of holiness is realized.
The Inspirationists seek a message in Torah. They search the teaching, neither for scientific proof nor concrete law, but rather for answers to the questions, “What does this mean to me; to my generation? How can I use it to improve myself and the world in which I live?” When they discern the meaning of the message and the use to which they can put it, they lift the level of their lives, add an extra dimension to all their endeavors—not only for themselves, but for all those with whom they have linkage.
Everyone is eclectic. We each have been given Torah. From it, we choose that which we will emphasize and also what we will ignore. The only choice we do not have—if we are to consider ourselves Jewish—is to choose nothing at all.