Why hear the 10 Commandments from a Torah if I don't understand Hebrew?

Some people wonder why they should bother coming to hear the 10 Commandments from a Torah scroll on Shavuos (the holiday G-d gave us His Torah).  “I don’t understand Hebrew anyways.  What’s the point?”

I think the answer is understanding the difference between personal growth and a communal experience:

Every person has their own journey in life.  G-d has catered your life perfectly for you to grow into the person He wants you to be.

There are two “tools” G-d gives you to grow and navigate the world:  personal growth and communal experiences.

Personal growth is every person according to their life story, strengths & weaknesses.  Every person grows at their own pace.  In their journey of acquiring wisdom.  In their journey of deepening relationships with people.  In their journey of deepening their relationship with G-d.  

When I study Torah it’s about how my brain works, and my capacity to understand.  It may be more than one person and less than another.  It doesn’t matter, because it’s my journey. Relationships can be satisfying on many levels and there is no better and worse.  My marriage is my marriage, and all that matters is coming closer to Natanya to the point of becoming one.

Communal experiences are not about my individual journey.  I’m a Jew because of my Jewish soul, and that Jewish soul is connected to every other Jew.  The ones who are more religious than me, and the ones who are less religious than me.  The Jews more knowledgeable than me, and the Jews less knowledgeable than me.  

It’s not about that.  It’s about us as a Jewish community.

The essence of my soul is united with all Jews (כל ישראל ערבים זה בזה) and communal experiences nourish that part of my soul.

Since the communal experience is about the part of me that is equal to every Jew, not about my personal journey, it’s more important for my soul to hear it, than for my brain to understand it.

The moment G-d gave us the Torah at Mt. Sinai was a communal experience.  Every Jew, from Moses to the water carrier equally received the Torah.

Every year on Shavuos, we relive this moment, and read the ten commandments from a Torah scroll.  Now you know why it’s more important to hear (1) the ten commandments, (2) together with other Jews, (3) from a Torah scroll.  My soul needs to hear it, connect with G-d, and connect with other Jews.

After this special communal experience, I’ll go back home, and read the Torah at my own pace, in my own language, and make the Torah that was given to us, “mine”.  

But the essence of G-d’s infinite Torah is deeper than I’ll ever understand, no matter what my IQ is.  And that essence of the Torah is what’s communicated on Shavuos.  That essence of Torah is what enables me to study at my own pace afterwards, and continue on my own journey.

This “communal experience” is very much connected with Hakhel (the year of gathering). Again, the purpose of gathering is to “experience” something higher than the daily grind, even in holiness.  It’s a year dedicated to coming together, inspiring each other, and allowing G-d to inspire us with these “communal experiences.”


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