June 10, 2024

It is said in the midrashic work Shemot Rabbah, and elsewhere, that the Torah was revealed to each person uniquely according to their own capacity and understanding. I imagine it sort of like this:


A Thought Experiment: A Poem for Shavuot 

by Rabbi Emily Stern


The Torah is nothing if not yours

Because this is how it was when we stood at Sinai

When you heard that booming voice through the hugely porous air

So loud, so clear. The sound is a kind of fruit

Your ears are made of, but you never knew.

You eat it and have no time to wonder,

“Is this true?” because

The voice you hear is familiar, eerily familiar.

It reminds you—oh, that’s it— of being in the womb

Before you entered this world.

These are the same voices you heard muffled around you

For those months while you formed.

This Torah is nothing if not yours.


And the voice morphs into your grandmother’s call

At the bottom of the stairs saying

“Breakfast is ready. Come and get it!”

Your heart’s humming, but it’s too high pitched.

You strain to hear

And slowly come to realize it’s your favorite song.

You anticipate the words as you remember who you are.

You peer at the top of the mountain

And look up at the cloud resting there.

You distinctly remember seeing that shape.

Oh, it’s the butterfly that flew by you

On your fifth birthday. You didn’t even know you remembered.

And in the thunder

As you sit and listen,

You are watching shapes become a very complicated mathematical equation

In front of your face.

And you stretch your mind to solve for “x”

Only to discover the answer, the only possible answer

Is the presence of the deepest part of you.

And the answer to every question was always your own essence.

It’s like a key that unlocks something, and you are woken from this slumbering

By a flash of lightning.

You know so well, too well,

It’s a flash of inspiration in your head

That you once were a sperm colliding with an egg.

You watch yourself meet yourself

And you know it was the first time you ever felt true love.

Your face is shown to you

Like a mirror but not backwards.

It’s the first time you’ve ever really seen your own face

Made of swirling colors too bright to see with your eyes

Or even your mind.

It’s so impossible to contain

That color becomes a smell

The smell of smoke from the mountain.

And heat from the fire burns your face

And you’re suddenly inside that volcano

You saw a picture of  in third grade

That you imagined someday you would visit.


And you know… someone knows your language

It’s too much Intimacy to bear.

And you reverberate there

Suspended beyond all worlds.

It almost is embarrassing to be so known

To be so seen

In these words

Called Torah.

And you know… this Torah is nothing if not yours.

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