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The Message at the Mountain

The Message at the Mountain: A Teaching for the Festival of Shavuos

Dear Friends,

When the Children of Israel camped at Mount Sinai, in preparation for the giving of the Torah, Hashem told Moshe to convey the following message to the people:
"You have seen what I did to Egypt, and that I have borne you on the wings of eagles and brought you to Me. And now, if you hearken well to Me and observe My covenant, you shall be to me a segulah from all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine." (Exodus 19:4,5)

Our mandate is to be "a segulah from all the peoples." What is the meaning of the Hebrew term segulah? Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, in his commentary on this verse, explains that the term segulah refers to a possession which is a special property of one sole owner, such as the treasures of monarchs; it is a unique treasure over which the owner alone has the right of disposition. And Rabbi Hirsch adds: "By employing this expression to define our relationship with Him, Hashem basically demands that we must belong to Him, completely and exclusively, with every aspect of our nature, with all our being, and with all our aspirations. He asks of us to make all our existence and all our aspirations dependent upon Him alone, to allow Him to shape them all and to permit nothing and no one else to direct our lives or to influence our actions."

The purpose of our being a "segulah", notes Rabbi Hirsch, is mentioned in the verse itself, as it is written, "for all the earth is mine." Rabbi Hirsch states that through these words, Hashem is conveying to us the following universal message:
"The relationship into which you are to enter with Me is in fact nothing exceptional; it is merely to begin the restoration of that normal relationship which all the earth should really have with Me. The whole of humanity - every nation in the world - is destined to belong to Me."

The Children of Israel, explains Rav Hirsch, are to be the segulah of Hashem in order to remind the world that each and every nation is meant to become the segulah of Hashem, for "all the earth is Mine."

One of the mitzvos through which we convey this message is the mitzva of Shabbos; in fact, the mitzva to remember and to keep the Shabbos is the fourth of the Ten Commandments which were proclaimed at Mount Sinai. Through observing Shabbos, we become a segulah - one which serves as an example to all the nations that the earth belongs to Hashem. In this spirit, there is a custom to sing the following words during the Shabbos day meal:
"Behold, the redemption will come, if you keep the Shabbos Day; for then you will be to Me a segulah." (Shimru Shabbsosei)

During the Temple period, we were able to fulfill another mitzva which serves as a reminder that the earth belongs to Hashem: the mitzva of bringing the first-fruits of the harvest to the Sanctuary. The season for bringing the first-fruits begins with the Festival of Shavuos, and the offering is brought from the seven species for which the Land of Israel is praised in the Torah: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates.

The Mishna describes how the first-fruits were brought to Jerusalem during the Second Temple period. According to the Mishna, the people would gather in the central city of their district, and they would spend the night in the city's public square. At dawn, an official would proclaim: "Rise and let us go up to Zion, to the House of Hashem our God!" And the Mishna adds:
"An ox walked before them, its horns covered with gold, and with a crown of olives on its head. The flute was played before them until they reached the vicinity of Jerusalem. Upon coming close to Jerusalem, they sent word ahead (of their coming) and decorated their first-fruits. The governors, chiefs, and the treasurers went forth to meet them...And all the craftsmen of Jerusalem used to rise before them and greet them, saying, 'Our brethren, people of such and such a place, you have come to shalom!' The flute was played before them until they reached the Temple Mount." (Bikurim 3:2-4)

Upon arrival at the Temple, each farmer would say to the Kohen (priest): "I declare today to Hashem, your God, that I have come to the Land that Hashem swore to our forefathers to give us." The Kohen would take the basket from his hand and lay it before the Altar of Hashem. The farmer would then say the following declaration:
"An Aramean tried to destroy my forefather (Jacob). He descended to Egypt and sojourned there few in number, and there he became a nation - great, strong, and numerous. The Egyptians mistreated us and afflicted us, and placed hard work upon us. Then we cried out to Hashem, the God of our ancestors, and Hashem heard our voice and saw our affliction, our travail, and our oppression. Hashem took us out of Egypt with a strong hand and with an outstretched arm, with great awesomeness, and with signs and wonders. He brought us to this place, and He gave us this Land, a land flowing with milk and honey. And now, behold! I have brought the first-fruit of the ground that You have given me, Hashem!" (Deuteronomy 26:1-10)

May we merit once again to bring our first-fruits to the Temple - the Sanctuary that will be called "A House of Prayer for all the peoples" (Isaiah 56:7).

A Chag Samayach - a Joyous Festival!
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen

"Hazon - Our Universal Vision" is a study program which explores the universal vision of the Torah for Jews, humanity, and all creation.