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Spiritual Hierarchy Or Anarchy?

G-d’s revelation of the Torah on Mount Sinai forever left an indelible mark on the Jewish people. Referring to the event, G-d said, “You all saw that from the heavens I spoke to you.” Rashi’s commentary describes that “seeing is believing” and that the event impacted every Jew with an immediacy that an intermediary could never have communicated. As a direct experience of G-dliness, Mount Sinai gave each of us a direct personal connection to G-d.

A Private Line to the Divine?

This idea raises some questions. If we each have a direct connection to G-d, why is there a need for spiritual leadership? Shouldn’t we ask our conscience and find the council we need? Moshe later says, “I stood between you and G-d at that time, to relay to you the word of G-d.” If we have a private line to the divine, why is there a need for Moshe’s mediation?

Even more interesting, before the giving of the Torah, G-d says to Moshe, “I will come to you in a cloud so that the people will hear when I speak with you, and they will believe in you forever.” It seems that the personal revelation was designed to demonstrate the legitimacy of the leadership Moshe would provide.

The revelation at Mount Sinai was an extraordinary moment, so G-d instructed Moshe to repeat its meaning immediately afterward. He gave the people instructions to help them translate the experience back into everyday life. Even moments after encountering divinity, we could not expect personal divine revelation alone to guide us. Instead, G-d wanted Moshe to provide the necessary guidance.

The need for leadership didn’t stop after Moshe’s day. Each generation looks to its leaders. “Even if he is not as great as the leaders of yore, you still need to listen,” Rashi comments. “For you have nothing but the ‘judge’ of your time.”

A New Normal

In our personal lives, we must integrate moments of extraordinary inspiration into the standard routine of life. Just as the Jews at Mount Sinai catapulted to the highest rungs of divine revelation, we occasionally have a transformative experience that propels us to unprecedented spiritual heights. It’s sometimes tempting to try and live our entire lives in this state, connecting directly to the highest levels of inspiration.

But the Torah underscores that Mount Sinai’s revelation was not typical. G-d did not intend to replace the usual model of spiritual leadership; instead, he only strengthened it. In the end, the goal is not to escape into the extraordinary. Instead, we climb the ladder of spiritual growth one rung at a time, and look to those who have climbed a few rungs higher.

Adapted from the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe

(שיחות קודש תשל”ג, כרך א, עמ’ 333)

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