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Stick or Carrot? The Giving of the Torah

Dr. Tamar Kadari
| 19/06/2019

When it comes to educating students, teachers often ask which is more persuasive: the carrot or the stick? Was the the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai really frightening or a was it a loving moment?

Dr. Tamar Kadari, Dean of the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies and lecturer for Midrash and Aggadah, explains that there are multiple rabbinic stories describing Matan Torah. In one story, the Rabbis describe the giving of the Torah with verses from the Song of Songs. The story demonstrates that Revelation can be a uplifting, not frightening, experience.

Full transcription below:

As educators and also as parents we ask ourselves, should we use the stick or the carrot? This question arises also concerning the receiving of the Torah.

When we read the verses describing Matan Torah, we are quite frightened by the sight. There are so many loud voices: the shofar, clouds and mist and the people of Israel are really very, very frightened. They asked Moses “Please talk to us! We want to hear you and not God!” because they’re very frightened.

This description is given in a whole different way by the rabbis. When they want to tell the story of the receiving of the Torah, they use the verses from the Song of Songs— ישקני מנשיקות פיהו—“Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth.” They described the giving of the Torah as a kind of a kiss.

There’s an angel that brings the words of God goes through all the people of Israel and goes personally to each and every one of them and asks them: “Do you want to receive this Torah?” They say yes and then they receive a kiss from this angel.

By telling this story the rabbis want to say there is “the stick,” the side that makes us frightened by the Halakhot, Mitzvot, the commandments. But there’s also a different side to this. There is a side of love and we should always remember that God loves us just like in the Song of Songs, the beloved and his girl, the way they love each other, that is the way God loves us.

Shavua Tov from Schechter!

Tamar Kadari is a senior lecturer for Midrash and Aggadah at the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies. She received her PhD in Midrashic literature from Hebrew University in Jerusalem and was a fellow at the Center for Advanced Judaic Studies at The University of Pennsylvania. In 2009, Dr. Kadari received a grant from the Israeli Science Foundation (ISF) to head a research group preparing a critical edition of Song of Songs Rabbah. Her research interests include biblical women in the eyes of the rabbis, aesthetics and beauty in rabbinic literature and literary readings of midrash. Dr. Kadari is also a sculptor whose work has been exhibited in galleries in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

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