Beyond the thunder and lightning, the fireworks, the booming voice and the sudden whitening of Charlton Heston’s beard, what exactly happened at Mount Sinai when the Ten Commandments and the Torah were revealed?
The Midrash Tanchuma describes it as follows:
Once there was a king who decreed: The people of Rome are forbidden to go down to Syria, and the people of Syria are forbidden to go up to Rome. Likewise, when G-d created the world He decreed and said: “The heavens are G-d’s, and the earth is given to man.” But when He wished to give the Torah to Israel, He rescinded His original decree, and declared: The lower realms may ascend to the higher realms, and the higher realms may descend to the lower realms. And I, Myself, will begin — as it is written, “And G-d descended on Mount Sinai, and then it says, “And to Moses He said: Go up to G-d.”
Clearly, it was a monumental event that forever transformed not only the entire Jewish people, but also all of humanity and the entire world. The gateway between spirituality and materialism, sealed for 2,500 years until then, was unlocked, altering the relationship between them and revealing the true purpose behind them; whereas until then the physical and the spiritual were separate, distinct realities, the Sinai experience revealed the possibility for them to share a common reality and purpose, and ultimately become one, because in essence they are one.
The experience at Mount Sinai had a similar effect on the individual. We are, by definition, limited. G-d is, by definition, not limited. By definition, therefore, the two should not be able to embrace. Though he is not limited by it, G-d created an order in which the Essence of His being is far removed from anything earthly or human. The fact that we can even have consciousness of Him and connect to Him is already a tremendous gift. We can relate to various manifestations or revelations of G-dliness, but we remain separate from G-d Himself.
But the Torah tells us that we should be holy because G-d is holy. The implication is that there is some parallel between the holiness that we can accomplish and G-d’s supreme holiness. Can we really become like G-d? Is there even room to ask such a question?
Because, in Essence, G-d is not limited by His own Being, He doesn’t have to follow His rules; the rules dictate that we cannot become like G-d – we might be able to become more G-dly by working to improve ourselves spiritually, but the natural order doesn’t allow us to actually reach the Essence of G-d. It is, however, within His power to enact a system override that bypasses the rules He created. But he only activates His system override if we activate ours.
I have natural tendencies, accomplishments and talents – the rules, whether imagined, imposed or self-imposed, that dictate how I should live my life. My nature forces me to live within the boundaries of this definition of self. When I break these rules in order go beyond the self to connect to G-d, then I am breaking the rules. In essence, I am no longer me – I shed the sense of self that was a barrier between the G-dly spark within me and its Source.
Rebelling with G-d is much more productive than rebelling against Him. Our humanity dictates that we cannot get over ourselves and get close to G-d, but we do it anyway. G-d’s created reality dictates that mortals should not be able to approach the Essence of the Infinite, but he allows them anyway. Thus, our system override has been accomplished, and G-d enacts his corresponding system override, shattering together the boundaries that separate the Him above us from the Him within us.