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Celebrating the Day Humanity's Instruction Manual Finally Arrived

June 5, 2008 By:
Jon Erlbaum
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Imagine you were the recipient of a priceless super-computer, possessing the technology to help you make wondrous advances on behalf of humankind.

There's only one problem: the great super-genius who created this technology gifted it to you without including an instruction manual.

No customer support Web site, no online training videos, no FAQ links -- just a few blogs by users that haven't made much more usage headway than you.

Sure, you've figured out how to navigate some of the user-friendly applications like Word and Photoshop, but frustration sets in as you begin to perceive how much this machine is truly capable of, knowing that you can only tap into a minute fraction of its potential.

Once you realize that this super-computer can accomplish far too much for you to be satisfied with its mere "survival" and mediocre productivity -- and after barely bouncing back from your latest hard-drive crash -- you begin to seek out the system's creator for guidance and instruction.

From the dawn of human creation until history's seminal event at Mount Sinai -- celebrated by Jews as the holiday of Shavuot -- humanity was stuck in just such a predicament.

When human beings arrived on the world scene, they were given the incomparable gift of their own world-altering potential.

True, many other forms of living beings existed before them, though we can deal with the questions of how dinosaurs and Neanderthals fit into the picture some other time.

But human beings were the first "super computer" creations endowed with the inner "technology" -- i.e., free will -- to make moral decisions and wield global impact.

There was just one problem: The great "Super Genius" who created our "technology" gifted it to us without including an instruction manual.

True, we were programmed with the wherewithal to learn user-friendly applications like "Word" (basic language skills) and "Photoshop" (achievements in design and the arts), but frustration began to set in for those who perceived how much the human machine is truly capable of, knowing that we were only tapping into a minute fraction of our potential.

After a while, we realized that even our glorious feats in the realms of architecture, commerce and the arts -- while quite wonderful and often crucial as a means to more fundamental goals -- were not what essential human achievement is really about.

When Abraham and Sarah entered onto history's stage, they soon intuited that human beings could accomplish far too much to be satisfied with their mere survival and "mediocre productivity." What they saw was progress in economic and cultural productivity but stagnation in the moral realm.

They embarked on a soulful search for their Creator, eager to discover, among other things, who that Creator was, who they themselves were and how they worked.

Until then, this "super genius" had been hiding for good reason: not to play "hard to get," but because this Creator knew that people would not be especially open to guidance unless they were driven to seek it out for themselves.

But, at last, there was no longer a need to hide. Because of their passionate quest, our pioneering patriarch and matriarch merited that their descendants would stand at Sinai to bring humanity's long-awaited instruction manual into the world.

At long last, the world was given its Torah -- short for "Torat Chaim," words that literally mean "Instructions for Living." It is the definitive owner's manual for human development that could guide us toward our positive potential.

Accordingly, the Sinai experience on Shavuot was the crowning day of Creation.

In fact, the Torah provides various hints and linguistic cues connecting the sixth day of Creation (the day humans were created) with the sixth day of Sivan (the day the Torah was given). At Mount Sinai, the Creator came out from behind the proverbial mask of nature to reveal once and for all that life has a purpose and that humans have a special mission.

The revelation was that our essential mission exists in the realms of morality and holiness, and it even included "best practice" tips we could use to achieve our assignments.

On Shavuot, the Creator made it known that in order to capitalize on the tremendous gift of human life, each of us is called upon to enthusiastically and sincerely seek out the coveted "Instructions for Living."

Jon Erlbaum is executive director of The Chevra.

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