Revelation at Sinai - The Story

Read and discuss the texts here. There are guiding questions to help you understand better. You can answer these questions here on this document, but your grade today is based on participation and discussion.

(א) בַּחֹ֙דֶשׁ֙ הַשְּׁלִישִׁ֔י לְצֵ֥את בְּנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל מֵאֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרָ֑יִם בַּיּ֣וֹם הַזֶּ֔ה בָּ֖אוּ מִדְבַּ֥ר סִינָֽי׃

(1) On the third new moon after the Israelites had gone forth from the land of Egypt, on that very day, they entered the wilderness of Sinai.

Which month are they talking about?

(ב) וַיִּסְע֣וּ מֵרְפִידִ֗ים וַיָּבֹ֙אוּ֙ מִדְבַּ֣ר סִינַ֔י וַֽיַּחֲנ֖וּ בַּמִּדְבָּ֑ר וַיִּֽחַן־שָׁ֥ם יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל נֶ֥גֶד הָהָֽר׃
(2) Having journeyed from Rephidim, they entered the wilderness of Sinai and encamped in the wilderness. Israel encamped there in front of the mountain,
(ג) וּמֹשֶׁ֥ה עָלָ֖ה אֶל־הָאֱלֹהִ֑ים וַיִּקְרָ֨א אֵלָ֤יו יְהוָה֙ מִן־הָהָ֣ר לֵאמֹ֔ר כֹּ֤ה תֹאמַר֙ לְבֵ֣ית יַעֲקֹ֔ב וְתַגֵּ֖יד לִבְנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃
(3) and Moses went up to God. The LORD called to him from the mountain, saying, “Thus shall you say to the house of Jacob and declare to the children of Israel:

This is the first time in a long time the Torah says "house of Jacob." Why do you think it's used here?

(ד) אַתֶּ֣ם רְאִיתֶ֔ם אֲשֶׁ֥ר עָשִׂ֖יתִי לְמִצְרָ֑יִם וָאֶשָּׂ֤א אֶתְכֶם֙ עַל־כַּנְפֵ֣י נְשָׁרִ֔ים וָאָבִ֥א אֶתְכֶ֖ם אֵלָֽי׃
(4) ‘You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Me.

What kinds of images do you think of when you read this phrase? Do you think it is an accurate metaphor for how the Israelites left Egypt?

(ה) וְעַתָּ֗ה אִם־שָׁמ֤וֹעַ תִּשְׁמְעוּ֙ בְּקֹלִ֔י וּשְׁמַרְתֶּ֖ם אֶת־בְּרִיתִ֑י וִהְיִ֨יתֶם לִ֤י סְגֻלָּה֙ מִכָּל־הָ֣עַמִּ֔ים כִּי־לִ֖י כָּל־הָאָֽרֶץ׃
(5) Now then, if you will obey Me faithfully and keep My covenant, you shall be My treasured possession among all the peoples. Indeed, all the earth is Mine,
(ו) וְאַתֶּ֧ם תִּהְיוּ־לִ֛י מַמְלֶ֥כֶת כֹּהֲנִ֖ים וְג֣וֹי קָד֑וֹשׁ אֵ֚לֶּה הַדְּבָרִ֔ים אֲשֶׁ֥ר תְּדַבֵּ֖ר אֶל־בְּנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃
(6) but you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the children of Israel.”
(ז) וַיָּבֹ֣א מֹשֶׁ֔ה וַיִּקְרָ֖א לְזִקְנֵ֣י הָעָ֑ם וַיָּ֣שֶׂם לִפְנֵיהֶ֗ם אֵ֚ת כָּל־הַדְּבָרִ֣ים הָאֵ֔לֶּה אֲשֶׁ֥ר צִוָּ֖הוּ יְהוָֽה׃
(7) Moses came and summoned the elders of the people and put before them all that the LORD had commanded him.
(ח) וַיַּעֲנ֨וּ כָל־הָעָ֤ם יַחְדָּו֙ וַיֹּ֣אמְר֔וּ כֹּ֛ל אֲשֶׁר־דִּבֶּ֥ר יְהוָ֖ה נַעֲשֶׂ֑ה וַיָּ֧שֶׁב מֹשֶׁ֛ה אֶת־דִּבְרֵ֥י הָעָ֖ם אֶל־יְהוָֽה׃
(8) All the people answered as one, saying, “All that the LORD has spoken we will do!” And Moses brought back the people’s words to the LORD.

How can the people of Israel agree to do what God wants them to do if they haven't yet heard what God wants them to do?

(ט) וַיֹּ֨אמֶר יְהוָ֜ה אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֗ה הִנֵּ֨ה אָנֹכִ֜י בָּ֣א אֵלֶיךָ֮ בְּעַ֣ב הֶֽעָנָן֒ בַּעֲב֞וּר יִשְׁמַ֤ע הָעָם֙ בְּדַבְּרִ֣י עִמָּ֔ךְ וְגַם־בְּךָ֖ יַאֲמִ֣ינוּ לְעוֹלָ֑ם וַיַּגֵּ֥ד מֹשֶׁ֛ה אֶת־דִּבְרֵ֥י הָעָ֖ם אֶל־יְהוָֽה׃
(9) And the LORD said to Moses, “I will come to you in a thick cloud, in order that the people may hear when I speak with you and so trust you ever after.” Then Moses reported the people’s words to the LORD,

Why do you think seeing God as a cloud would make the most sense for the Israelites?

(י) וַיֹּ֨אמֶר יְהוָ֤ה אֶל־מֹשֶׁה֙ לֵ֣ךְ אֶל־הָעָ֔ם וְקִדַּשְׁתָּ֥ם הַיּ֖וֹם וּמָחָ֑ר וְכִבְּס֖וּ שִׂמְלֹתָֽם׃
(10) and the LORD said to Moses, “Go to the people and warn them to stay pure today and tomorrow. Let them wash their clothes.

What does "stay pure" mean here?

(יא) וְהָי֥וּ נְכֹנִ֖ים לַיּ֣וֹם הַשְּׁלִישִׁ֑י כִּ֣י ׀ בַּיּ֣וֹם הַשְּׁלִישִׁ֗י יֵרֵ֧ד יְהוָ֛ה לְעֵינֵ֥י כָל־הָעָ֖ם עַל־הַ֥ר סִינָֽי׃
(11) Let them be ready for the third day; for on the third day the LORD will come down, in the sight of all the people, on Mount Sinai.

Which day of the week is the third day?

This next text is a midrash (midrash aggadah, in fact) designed to help people understand the text.

"וכל העם רואין". קולי קולות ולפידי לפידים. וכמה קולות היו, וכמה לפידים היו? – אלא שהיו משמיעים את האדם לפי כחו, שנאמר (שם) "קול ה' בכח". דבר אחר: להודיע שבחן של ישראל, שכשעמדו כלן לפני הר סיני לקבל את התורה, היו שומעין את הדיבור ומפרשים אותו, שנאמר (דברים לב י) "יסובבנהו יבוננהו", שכיון שהיו שומעין הדיבור – מפרשים אותו. ר' אליעזר אומר: להודיע שבחן של ישראל, שכשעמדו כלן לפני הר סיני לקבל את התורה, לא היה בהם סומין, שנאמר "וכל העם רואין". ומגיד שלא היה בהם אלמים (שמות יט ח) "ויענו כל העם יחדו". ומלמד שלא היה בהן חרשין שנאמר (שמות כד ז) "כל אשר דבר ה' נעשה ונשמע". ומנין שלא היה בהם חגרים? – שנאמר (שמות יט יז) "ויתיצבו בתחתית ההר". ומלמד שלא היה בהם טפשים, שנאמר (דברים ד לה) "אתה הראת לדעת".

"And all the people saw": The sounds of sounds and the flames of flames. How many sounds were there and how many flames were there?

The intent is that each heard according to his power to hear/understand what he experienced.

R. Eliezer says: When they all stood at Mount Sinai to receive the Torah, there were no blind ones among them, because it is written, "And all the people saw."

And from where is it derived that there were no people unable to speak among them? From Exodus 19:8 "And all the people answered together."

And from where is it derived that there were no deaf ones among them? From 24:7 "All that the Lord has spoken, we shall do and we shall hear."

And from where is it derived that there were no fools among them? From (Devarim 4:35) "You have been shown to know."

What is the lesson the midrash is trying to pass along?

How does the midrash use the text to prove the argument it's making?

(יב) וְהִגְבַּלְתָּ֤ אֶת־הָעָם֙ סָבִ֣יב לֵאמֹ֔ר הִשָּׁמְר֥וּ לָכֶ֛ם עֲל֥וֹת בָּהָ֖ר וּנְגֹ֣עַ בְּקָצֵ֑הוּ כָּל־הַנֹּגֵ֥עַ בָּהָ֖ר מ֥וֹת יוּמָֽת׃
(12) You shall set bounds for the people round about, saying, ‘Beware of going up the mountain or touching the border of it. Whoever touches the mountain shall be put to death:
(יג) לֹא־תִגַּ֨ע בּ֜וֹ יָ֗ד כִּֽי־סָק֤וֹל יִסָּקֵל֙ אוֹ־יָרֹ֣ה יִיָּרֶ֔ה אִם־בְּהֵמָ֥ה אִם־אִ֖ישׁ לֹ֣א יִחְיֶ֑ה בִּמְשֹׁךְ֙ הַיֹּבֵ֔ל הֵ֖מָּה יַעֲל֥וּ בָהָֽר׃

(13) no hand shall touch it, but he shall be either stoned or shot; beast or man, he shall not live.’ When the ram’s horn sounds a long blast, they may go up on the mountain.”

Why is God so concerned that people not touch the mountain?

(יד) וַיֵּ֧רֶד מֹשֶׁ֛ה מִן־הָהָ֖ר אֶל־הָעָ֑ם וַיְקַדֵּשׁ֙ אֶת־הָעָ֔ם וַֽיְכַבְּס֖וּ שִׂמְלֹתָֽם׃
(14) Moses came down from the mountain to the people and warned the people to stay pure, and they washed their clothes.
(טו) וַיֹּ֙אמֶר֙ אֶל־הָעָ֔ם הֱי֥וּ נְכֹנִ֖ים לִשְׁלֹ֣שֶׁת יָמִ֑ים אַֽל־תִּגְּשׁ֖וּ אֶל־אִשָּֽׁה׃
(15) And he said to the people, “Be ready for the third day: do not go near a woman.”

Who is Moses talking to here? Why would they need to avoid women?

(טז) וַיְהִי֩ בַיּ֨וֹם הַשְּׁלִישִׁ֜י בִּֽהְיֹ֣ת הַבֹּ֗קֶר וַיְהִי֩ קֹלֹ֨ת וּבְרָקִ֜ים וְעָנָ֤ן כָּבֵד֙ עַל־הָהָ֔ר וְקֹ֥ל שֹׁפָ֖ר חָזָ֣ק מְאֹ֑ד וַיֶּחֱרַ֥ד כָּל־הָעָ֖ם אֲשֶׁ֥ר בַּֽמַּחֲנֶֽה׃
(16) On the third day, as morning dawned, there was thunder, and lightning, and a dense cloud upon the mountain, and a very loud blast of the horn; and all the people who were in the camp trembled.

What do you think this experience felt like for the average Israelite? Do you think they were excited? Scared? Nervous? What do you think you would feel if you were there?

בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁלִישִׁי וַיִּשָֹּׂא אַבְרָהָם אֶת עֵינָיו (בראשית כב, ד), כְּתִיב (הושע ו, ב): יְחַיֵּנוּ מִיֹּמָיִם בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁלִישִׁי יְקִמֵנוּ וְנִחְיֶה לְפָנָיו, בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁלִישִׁי שֶׁל שְׁבָטִים, כְּתִיב (בראשית מב, יח): וַיֹּאמֶר אֲלֵהֶם יוֹסֵף בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁלִישִׁי, בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁלִישִׁי שֶׁל מְרַגְלִים, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (יהושע ב, טז): וְנַחְבֵּתֶם שָׁמָּה שְׁלשֶׁת יָמִים, בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁלִישִׁי שֶׁל מַתַּן תּוֹרָה, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (שמות יט, טז): וַיְהִי בַיּוֹם הַשְּׁלִישִׁי, בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁלִישִׁי שֶׁל יוֹנָה, דִּכְתִיב (יונה ב, א): וַיְהִי יוֹנָה בִּמְעֵי הַדָּגָה שְׁלשָׁה יָמִים וּשְׁלשָׁה לֵילוֹת, בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁלִישִׁי שֶׁל עוֹלֵי גוֹלָה, דִּכְתִיב (עזרא ח, לב): וַנֵּשֶׁב שָׁם יָמִים שְׁלשָׁה, בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁלִישִׁי שֶׁל תְּחִיַּת הַמֵּתִים, דִּכְתִיב: יְחַיֵּנוּ מִיֹּמָיִם בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁלִישִׁי יְקִמֵנוּ, בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁלִישִׁי שֶׁל אֶסְתֵּר, (אסתר ה, א): וַיְהִי בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁלִישִׁי וַתִּלְבַּשׁ אֶסְתֵּר מַלְכוּת, לָבְשָׁה מַלְכוּת בֵּית אָבִיהָ. בְּאֵיזֶה זְכוּת, רַבָּנָן וְרַבִּי לֵוִי, רַבָּנָן אָמְרֵי בִּזְכוּת יוֹם הַשְּׁלִישִׁי שֶׁל מַתַּן תּוֹרָה, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: וַיְהִי בַיּוֹם הַשְּׁלִישִׁי בִּהְיֹת הַבֹּקֶר. וְרַבִּי לֵוִי אָמַר בִּזְכוּת שֶׁל יוֹם שְׁלִישִׁי שֶׁל אַבְרָהָם אָבִינוּ, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁלִישִׁי. וַיַּרְא אֶת הַמָּקוֹם מֵרָחֹק, מָה רָאָה רָאָה עָנָן קָשׁוּר בָּהָר, אָמַר דּוֹמֶה שֶׁאוֹתוֹ מָקוֹם שֶׁאָמַר לִי הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא לְהַקְרִיב אֶת בְּנִי שָׁם.

“On the third day, Abraham lifted up his eyes…” (Genesis 22:4)

On the third day of the tribes it is written “On the third day, Joseph said to them…” (Genesis 42:18)

On the third day of the spies, as it says “…and hide yourselves there three days…” (Joshua 2:16)

On the third day of the giving of the Torah, as it says “It came to pass on the third day…” (Exodus 19:16)

On the third day of Jonah, as it is written “…and Jonah was in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights.” (Jonah 2:1)

On the third day of those who came up from exile, as it is written “…and stayed there three days.” (Ezra 8:32)

On Esther’s third day “Now it came to pass on the third day, that Esther clothed herself regally…” (Esther 5:1)

This is an argument of the Rabbis and Rabbi Levi. The Rabbis say: in the merit of the third day of the giving of the Torah, as it says “It came to pass on the third day when it was morning…”

According to this midrash Tuesday is a very important day, and all of these events happened on Tuesday. Why is Tuesday such an important day?

(יז) וַיּוֹצֵ֨א מֹשֶׁ֧ה אֶת־הָעָ֛ם לִקְרַ֥את הָֽאֱלֹהִ֖ים מִן־הַֽמַּחֲנֶ֑ה וַיִּֽתְיַצְּב֖וּ בְּתַחְתִּ֥ית הָהָֽר׃
(17) Moses led the people out of the camp toward God, and they took their places at the foot of the mountain.
(יח) וְהַ֤ר סִינַי֙ עָשַׁ֣ן כֻּלּ֔וֹ מִ֠פְּנֵי אֲשֶׁ֨ר יָרַ֥ד עָלָ֛יו יְהוָ֖ה בָּאֵ֑שׁ וַיַּ֤עַל עֲשָׁנוֹ֙ כְּעֶ֣שֶׁן הַכִּבְשָׁ֔ן וַיֶּחֱרַ֥ד כָּל־הָהָ֖ר מְאֹֽד׃
(18) Now Mount Sinai was all in smoke, for the LORD had come down upon it in fire; the smoke rose like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled violently.
(יט) וַיְהִי֙ ק֣וֹל הַשּׁוֹפָ֔ר הוֹלֵ֖ךְ וְחָזֵ֣ק מְאֹ֑ד מֹשֶׁ֣ה יְדַבֵּ֔ר וְהָאֱלֹהִ֖ים יַעֲנֶ֥נּוּ בְקֽוֹל׃
(19) The blare of the horn grew louder and louder. As Moses spoke, God answered him in thunder.
(כ) וַיֵּ֧רֶד יְהוָ֛ה עַל־הַ֥ר סִינַ֖י אֶל־רֹ֣אשׁ הָהָ֑ר וַיִּקְרָ֨א יְהוָ֧ה לְמֹשֶׁ֛ה אֶל־רֹ֥אשׁ הָהָ֖ר וַיַּ֥עַל מֹשֶֽׁה׃
(20) The LORD came down upon Mount Sinai, on the top of the mountain, and the LORD called Moses to the top of the mountain and Moses went up.

What is the symbolism of God coming down and Moses going up?

(כא) וַיֹּ֤אמֶר יְהוָה֙ אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֔ה רֵ֖ד הָעֵ֣ד בָּעָ֑ם פֶּן־יֶהֶרְס֤וּ אֶל־יְהוָה֙ לִרְא֔וֹת וְנָפַ֥ל מִמֶּ֖נּוּ רָֽב׃
(21) The LORD said to Moses, “Go down, warn the people not to break through to the LORD to gaze, lest many of them perish.

Why would people die if they looked at God?

(כב) וְגַ֧ם הַכֹּהֲנִ֛ים הַנִּגָּשִׁ֥ים אֶל־יְהוָ֖ה יִתְקַדָּ֑שׁוּ פֶּן־יִפְרֹ֥ץ בָּהֶ֖ם יְהוָֽה׃
(22) The priests also, who come near the LORD, must stay pure, lest the LORD break out against them.”
(כג) וַיֹּ֤אמֶר מֹשֶׁה֙ אֶל־יְהוָ֔ה לֹא־יוּכַ֣ל הָעָ֔ם לַעֲלֹ֖ת אֶל־הַ֣ר סִינָ֑י כִּֽי־אַתָּ֞ה הַעֵדֹ֤תָה בָּ֙נוּ֙ לֵאמֹ֔ר הַגְבֵּ֥ל אֶת־הָהָ֖ר וְקִדַּשְׁתּֽוֹ׃
(23) But Moses said to the LORD, “The people cannot come up to Mount Sinai, for You warned us saying, ‘Set bounds about the mountain and sanctify it.’”
(כד) וַיֹּ֨אמֶר אֵלָ֤יו יְהוָה֙ לֶךְ־רֵ֔ד וְעָלִ֥יתָ אַתָּ֖ה וְאַהֲרֹ֣ן עִמָּ֑ךְ וְהַכֹּהֲנִ֣ים וְהָעָ֗ם אַל־יֶֽהֶרְס֛וּ לַעֲלֹ֥ת אֶל־יְהוָ֖ה פֶּן־יִפְרָץ־בָּֽם׃
(24) So the LORD said to him, “Go down, and come back together with Aaron; but let not the priests or the people break through to come up to the LORD, lest He break out against them.”
(כה) וַיֵּ֥רֶד מֹשֶׁ֖ה אֶל־הָעָ֑ם וַיֹּ֖אמֶר אֲלֵהֶֽם׃ (ס)
(25) And Moses went down to the people and spoke to them.
(טו) וְכָל־הָעָם֩ רֹאִ֨ים אֶת־הַקּוֹלֹ֜ת וְאֶת־הַלַּפִּידִ֗ם וְאֵת֙ ק֣וֹל הַשֹּׁפָ֔ר וְאֶת־הָהָ֖ר עָשֵׁ֑ן וַיַּ֤רְא הָעָם֙ וַיָּנֻ֔עוּ וַיַּֽעַמְד֖וּ מֵֽרָחֹֽק׃
(15) All the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the blare of the horn and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they fell back and stood at a distance.
(טז) וַיֹּֽאמְרוּ֙ אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֔ה דַּבֵּר־אַתָּ֥ה עִמָּ֖נוּ וְנִשְׁמָ֑עָה וְאַל־יְדַבֵּ֥ר עִמָּ֛נוּ אֱלֹהִ֖ים פֶּן־נָמֽוּת׃
(16) “You speak to us,” they said to Moses, “and we will obey; but let not God speak to us, lest we die.”

מגיד שלא היה בהם כח לקבל יותר מעשרת הדברות, שנאמר (דברים ה כב) "אם יוספים אנחנו לשמוע את קול ה' אלהינו עוד ומתנו" אלא "קרב אתה ונשמע".

We are understand that they lacked the strength to receive no more than ten pronouncements, (Devarim 5:22) "If we continue hearing the voice of the Lord our God, we will die," but draw near, and we will hear."

Why were the people so afraid to hear God's voice directly?

What are the "ten pronouncements?"

(יז) וַיֹּ֨אמֶר מֹשֶׁ֣ה אֶל־הָעָם֮ אַל־תִּירָאוּ֒ כִּ֗י לְבַֽעֲבוּר֙ נַסּ֣וֹת אֶתְכֶ֔ם בָּ֖א הָאֱלֹהִ֑ים וּבַעֲב֗וּר תִּהְיֶ֧ה יִרְאָת֛וֹ עַל־פְּנֵיכֶ֖ם לְבִלְתִּ֥י תֶחֱטָֽאוּ׃
(17) Moses answered the people, “Be not afraid; for God has come only in order to test you, and in order that the fear of Him may be ever with you, so that you do not go astray.”
(יח) וַיַּעֲמֹ֥ד הָעָ֖ם מֵרָחֹ֑ק וּמֹשֶׁה֙ נִגַּ֣שׁ אֶל־הָֽעֲרָפֶ֔ל אֲשֶׁר־שָׁ֖ם הָאֱלֹהִֽים׃ (פ)
(18) So the people remained at a distance, while Moses approached the thick cloud where God was.
(יט) וַיֹּ֤אמֶר יְהוָה֙ אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֔ה כֹּ֥ה תֹאמַ֖ר אֶל־בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל אַתֶּ֣ם רְאִיתֶ֔ם כִּ֚י מִן־הַשָּׁמַ֔יִם דִּבַּ֖רְתִּי עִמָּכֶֽם׃
(19) The LORD said to Moses: Thus shall you say to the Israelites: You yourselves saw that I spoke to you from the very heavens:

ויחנו במדבר. נתנה תורה דימוס פרהסייא במקום הפקר, שאלו נתנה בארץ ישראל, היו אומרים לאומות העולם אין להם חלק בה, לפיכך נתנה במדבר דימוס פרהסייא במקום הפקר, וכל הרוצה לקבל יבא ויקבל.

"and they encamped in the desert": The Torah was given openly, in a public place. For if it were given in Eretz Yisrael, they could say to the nations of the world: You have no portion in it. But it was given openly, in a public place, and all who want to take it may come and take it.

This midrash makes it very clear that the location - the desert - matters a great deal. Why does it matter so much where the Israelites received the Torah and the Ten Commandments? What's the reason?