Torah for this Hour | June 6, 2024

Just what was heard on Mt. Sinai? Our tradition offers several answers: that we heard the Ten Commandments in full, that we heard only the first two Commandments, that we heard only the sound of the first letter, the aleph of Anokhi.

The late Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks wrote that each person heard something different. We accept that children hear something different from what adults understand. And it’s OK if the adults themselves don’t understand what they hear in the same way. According to Rabbi Sacks, there is no contradiction between the different understandings as long as our actions, based on those different understandings, unite us.

That approach is a key to a proper and successful pedagogy. In my day, I was privileged to study with a few teachers who, adopting this approach, found a way to reach each student where he or she was. And in particular, my teacher Professor Joel Roth excels in this.

I am always reminded of this approach as we re-enact the revelation at Sinai each year on Shavu’ot. It is a precious thing that we are free to understand differently and still celebrate together.