The Jewish holiday of Shavuot (also called the “Festival of Weeks” because it comes precisely seven weeks after Passover) commemorates God’s gift of the Torah to Moses on Mt. Sinai after the Exodus from slavery. This year, the holiday begins tomorrow night, the eve of June 3rd. It is customary to decorate synagogues and homes with flowers, to light candles, to enjoy a holiday meal, and then to stay awake all night and study the Torah. During the day, the section of the Torah that includes the Ten Commandments is read in the synagogue.
As Moses, Joshua, Aaron, Hur, and the Elders looked upward to Heaven, they saw the Lord’s feet as He descended down to the mountaintop. God then told Moses, the awakened Mind, to come to Him, and said, “I will give you the stone tablets with the teachings and commandments which I have inscribed to instruct them.” Moses ascended into the cloud on the summit of Sinai, and remained there with the Lord, studying the Torah for forty days and forty nights. Thus did God and Israel unite, a symbol of the Sacred Marriage of Heaven and Earth – a huge step on the path of the soul’s Initiation.
According to Jewish folklore, when Moses first stepped into the cloud at the top of Mount Sinai, he was confronted by the angel Kemuel, known as the ‘gatekeeper’. Kemuel (the Guardian of the Threshold between Earth and Heaven), tried to prevent Moses from passing, claiming he did not belong there. Moses explained that he was there with God’s permission to receive the Torah, but Kemuel still did not want to let him pass, so Moses had to strike him down. (Thus did Moses open the door of the Threshold, so that all could follow.) Next, he met the angel Hadarniel, who, with his fellow angels (the Planets), angrily demanded to know what he was doing there. Moses cried out in fear and almost fell back into the cloud, but God heard him and became angry with Hadarniel, for Hadarniel had been very quarrelsome ever since Adam was created! When Hadarniel learned that Moses was there with God’s permission, he begged pardon, and even offered to escort Moses. He took him as far as the next great angel, Sandalfon, but he could not go further lest Sandalfon’s flame scorch him. Sandalfon (the Sun), who binds human prayers into garlands for God’s crown, is so large that it would take a human being 500 years to cross over him. Again Moses was frightened, but again the Lord came to him, and stood with him until he had safely passed the flames. After Sandalfon, Moses came to the stream of fire, Rigyon. (The river is the Upper Threshold between Heaven and the ‘Heaven Above Heaven’.) It is said that every morning the angels dip in the river, are purified, and arise anew. God came again, and by His Grace Moses passed the river without injury. Moses was then in the realm of pure Being. There he met the angel Raziel, whose job is to reveal the secrets of his Master, to make known to the world what is decreed by God. He stands before God, where he sees and hears everything. Moses trembled when he beheld Raziel, but God helped him pass unhurt. Moses then came to the Angels of Terror who surround the Throne of Glory, the strongest and mightiest of the angels. They questioned Moses about his mission, but God told him to hold tightly to His Throne and answer their charges. In the end, they acknowledged that it was right for mankind to receive the Torah. Moses stayed forty days and learned the Torah from God Himself, before bringing it down the mountain.
The Biblical rendition tells us that before leaving, God tells Moses to have the people “build Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.” This is the Tabernacle, a Temple, which also symbolizes the internal Sacred Marriage of Heaven and Earth: it is a structure made from elements of Earth, but where God may descend from Heaven to dwell among us. The Tablets will be kept there, and the Tabernacle will serve as a dwelling place for the Shechinah, the Feminine ‘Presence’ of God in the world.
To hear more stories from the Bible and to explore their hidden inner meaning, you will want to read SYMBOLS, MEANING, AND THE SACRED QUEST: Spiritual Awakening in Jewish, Christian and Islamic Stories