What Really Happened at Sinai?
1א

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יהוה
אֱלהֵינוּ מֶלֶך-הָעולָם

אֲשֶׁר קִדְּשָנוּ בְּמִצְותָיו
וְצִוָּנוּ לַעֲסק בְּדִבְרֵי-תורָה

"Soak up the Sweetness of Torah"

Source of Blessing, Adonai our G!d, Master of the universe, You make us holy with Your commandments, as you have commanded us to engross ourselves in the words of the Torah.

Barukh atah Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha-olam, asher kiddeshanu be'mitzvotav, ve'tzivanu la'asok be'divrei Torah.

2ב

STUDY Exodus 19:16 - 20:18

  1. What atmosphere does God create for the giving of the Torah?
  2. How does this affect the people? What about Moshe?
  3. Why was this an important way to present the Torah?
3ג

WHAT DID THEY SEE?

“The Torah was given through seven voices. And the people saw the Master of the Universe revealed in every one of these voices. That's the meaning of the verse ‘All the people saw the the voices.’ (Exodus 20:15) These voices were accompanied by sparks of fire and flashes of lightening that were in the shape of the letters of the ten commandments. They saw the fiery word pouring out from the mouth of the Almighty and watched as they were inscribed on the stone tablets, as it says, ‘The voice of God inscribes flames of fire’ (Ps 29:4). And when the people actually saw The-One-Who-Speaks-the-World-into-Being, they fainted away. Some say that their spirits left their bodies, while others say that they entered a prophetic trance. These visions brought them to trembling and shaking and a blackout of the senses.” (Midrash Exodus Rabbah)

4ד

THE SILENT ALEF: “It is possible that at Sinai we heard nothing from the mouth of God other than the letter alef of the first utterance 'Anochi Adonai Elohechem, I am YHWH your God.' As we read in Exodus 20:15, “And all of the people saw the thunder.” In other words, they saw what is normally heard! At Sinai we saw the letter “alef” evoking the name and presence of God…” (Zera Hakodesh- Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Horowitz 19th Cent)

5ה

WHAT DID THEY HEAR? “Rabi Yochanan Said: When God’s voice came forth at Mt. Sinai, it divided itself into 70 human languages, so that the whole world might understand it. All at Mt. Sinai, young and old, women, children, and infants according to their ability to understand. Moses too, understood only according to his capacity, as it is said (Ex. 19:19), ‘Moses spoke and God answered him with a voice.’ With a voice that Moses could hear.” (Midrash Exodus Rabbah 5:9)

6ו

​DEAFENING SILENCE: "Said Rabbi Abbahu in the name of Rabbi Yochanan: When the Holy One gave the Torah, no bird screeched, no fowl flew, no ox mooed, none of the ophanim (angels) flapped a wing, nor did the seraphim (burning celestial beings) chant "Kadosh Kadosh Kadosh (Holy, Holy, Holy!)" The sea did not roar, and none of the creatures uttered a sound. Throughout the entire world there was only a deafening silence as the Divine Voice went forth speaking: Anochi Adonai Elohecha (I am the Lord your God)" (Midrash Exodus Rabbah)

7ז

(ו) דבר אחר: וידבר אלהים את כל הדברים האלה לאמר אמר רבי יצחק: מה שהנביאים עתידים להתנבאות בכל דור ודור, קבלו מהר סיני, שכן משה אומר להם לישראל (דברים כט): כי את אשר ישנו פה עמנו עומד היום ואת אשר איננו פה עמנו היום. עמנו עומד היום אין כתיב כאן, אלא עמנו היום, אלו הנשמות העתידות להבראות, שאין בהם ממש, שלא נאמרה בהם עמידה, שאע"פ שלא היו באותה שעה, כל אחד ואחד קבל את שלו.

SAW YOU AT SINAI: "And God spoke all these words, saying" (Exod. 20:1). Rabbi Isaac said: At Mount Sinai, the prophets of each and every generation received what they were to prophesy (in the future). For Moses told Israel, "But with him that stands here with us this day before Adonai our God, and also with him that is not here this day" (Deut. 29:14). He did not say, "That is not standing here with us this day," but, "That is not here with us this day," as a way of referring to the souls that are still destined to be created. Moses did not use the word "standing" for them, because as yet these had no substance. Still, even though they did not as yet exist, each one received his share of the Torah. Nor were the future prophets the only ones who received at Sinai the prophecy they were to utter. The sages who were to rise in each and every generation--each and every one of them also received at Sinai the wisdom he was to share later.

8ח

אמר רב יהודה אמר רב בשעה שעלה משה למרום מצאו להקב"ה שיושב וקושר כתרים לאותיות אמר לפניו רבש"ע מי מעכב על ידך אמר לו אדם אחד יש שעתיד להיות בסוף כמה דורות ועקיבא בן יוסף שמו שעתיד לדרוש על כל קוץ וקוץ תילין תילין של הלכות אמר לפניו רבש"ע הראהו לי אמר לו חזור לאחורך הלך וישב בסוף שמונה שורות ולא היה יודע מה הן אומרים תשש כחו כיון שהגיע לדבר אחד אמרו לו תלמידיו רבי מנין לך אמר להן הלכה למשה מסיני נתיישבה דעתו חזר ובא לפני הקב"ה אמר לפניו רבונו של עולם יש לך אדם כזה ואתה נותן תורה ע"י אמר לו שתוק

Rabbi Y’hudah said in the name of Rav: When Moses went to heaven he found God sitting and affixing crowns to the letters [of the Torah]. Moses said: “Master of the Universe, who detains your hand?” [I.e., why do you take so long to add these crowns to the letters?] God said to him: "A man will come to be at the end of many generations, and Akiva ben Yosef is his name. He will interpret on each and every tittle, piles and piles of laws.” He said to him: "Master of the Universe: Show him to me.” God said to him: "Turn around."

He went and sat at the end of the eighth row, but he didn't understand the Torah they were teaching. Moses was very upset. At one point, his students said to him: “Teacher, how do you know it is so?” He replied: “It is halacha that was given to Moses at Mount Sinai.” And Moses was comforted. Moses then said to God, Master of the Universe, you have a man of this caliber and yet you give the Torah through me? God told him to be silent.

9ט

Why does Moses become frustrated?

Why does Moses feel comforted when Akiva claims that Moshe received this teaching at Mt Sinai?

10י

God In Search Of Man, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

The word Torah is used in two senses; the supernal (heavenly) Torah, the existence which preceded the creation of the world, and the revealed (earthly) Torah. Concerning the supernal Torah the Rabbis maintained: "The Torah is hidden from the eye of all living...Man knows not the price thereof." "Moses received Torah" but not all of the Torah "at Sinai." And not all that was revealed to Moses was conveyed to Israel; the meaning of the commandments is given as an example. Together with the gratitude for the word that was disclosed, there is a yearning for the meaning yet to be disclosed. There is a theory in Jewish literature... which maintains that the Torah, which is eternal in spirit, assumes different forms in various eons. The Torah was known to Adam when was in the Garden of Eden, although not in its present form. Commandments such as those concerning charity to the poor, the stranger, the orphan, and the widow, would have been meaningless in the Garden of Eden. In that eon the Torah was known in its spiritual form. Just as man assumed a material form when he was driven out of the Garden of Eden, so has the Torah assumed a material form. If man had retained "the garments of light" his spiritual form of existence, the Torah, too, would have retained its spiritual form.

11יא

REVELATION EVERYDAY: The Kotzker Rebbe was asked: ”Why is Shavuot called (z’man matan Torah) 'The Time that the Torah was Given,' rather than 'The time the Torah was Received?” He answered: “The giving took place on one day, but the receiving takes place at all times.” (Martin Buber Tales of Hasidim)

12יב

"THE SILENT ALEF" From The Book of Miracles (Rabbi Lawrence Kushner)

Narrator: “No one really knows for sure what happened on Mount Sinai.” One time the rabbis were arguing about it.

RABBI 1: "At Mt Sinai God spoke the entire Torah to all the Children of Israel, and Moses wrote it down as God spoke.

RABBI 2: "No! It says in the Torah that the Children of Israel heard only the Ten Commandments that were carved in stone with the finger of God.

RABBI 3: "NO NO! The people could not handle hearing all of that. It would be too much for them. They only heard God say the first word of the Ten Commandments– “ANOCHI!" אנכי and then the entire world went totally silent, not even a bird chirped or a frog croaked.” Anochi means “I am” – Basically they heard God saying “I exist – I am real”

RABBI 4: "NO NO NO!!! ‘Not even the first word, Anochi אנכי, was heard. All that God spoke was the first letter, of the first word, of the first commandment. At Sinai, all the people of Israel needed to hear was the sound of the alef. It meant that God and the Jewish people could have a conversation.”

Narrator: Jewish mysticism teaches that Alef, contains the entire Torah. But not everyone hears the gentle sound of alef. People are able to hear only what they are ready to hear. God speaks to each of us in a personal way, taking into consideration our strength, wisdom, and preparation.

13יג

YOU'RE RIGHT!

Two men came to the Rabbi's study to settle an argument. The Rabbi's wife was also seated in the room. One man explained his complaint to the Rabbi: "The story is such and so, and he has to do this and he has to do that." He gives a fine account and argues his case clearly. The Rabbi declares, "You're right!" Next, the other man presents his side. He speaks with such passion and persuasion that the Rabbi also says to him, "You're right!"

After they leave, the Rabbi's wife is distraught and says to her husband, "How can you say that both of them are right?" The Rabbi strokes his beard and thinks long and hard and finally says to his wife, "You know, you're right."

14יד

THE TEN PRONOUNCEMENTS

1) I am the Eternal, your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of slavery.

2) Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.

3) Thou shalt not speak the name of the Eternal, YHWH - your God, in vain.

4) Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.

5) Honor your father and mother.

6) Thou shalt not murder.

7) You shalt not commit adultery.

8) Thou shalt not steal.

9) Thou shalt not bear false witness against they neighbor.

10) Thou shalt not covet (be jealous of) anything that belongs to your neighbor.

  • Which one is the hardest to follow?
15טו

(יד) לֹ֥א תַחְמֹ֖ד בֵּ֣ית רֵעֶ֑ךָ לֹֽא־תַחְמֹ֞ד אֵ֣שֶׁת רֵעֶ֗ךָ וְעַבְדּ֤וֹ וַאֲמָתוֹ֙ וְשׁוֹר֣וֹ וַחֲמֹר֔וֹ וְכֹ֖ל אֲשֶׁ֥ר לְרֵעֶֽךָ׃ (פ)

(14) Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house; thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his man-servant, nor his maid-servant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.

16טז

(ט) כל החומד עבדו או אמתו או ביתו וכליו של חבירו או דבר שאפשר לו שיקנהו ממנו והכביר עליו ברעים והפציר בו עד שלקחו ממנו אף על פי שנתן לו דמים רבים הרי זה עובר [ה] בלא תעשה שנאמר לא תחמוד. ואין לוקין על לאו זה מפני שאין בו מעשה. ואינו עובר בלאו זה עד שיקח החפץ שחמד. כענין שנאמר לא תחמוד כסף וזהב עליהם ולקחת לך חימוד שיש בו מעשה.

Anyone who covets his neighbor’s servant, maidservant, house and utensils, or any other article that he can purchase from him, and pressures him through friends and implores him until he acquires it, transgresses a negative commandment, even though he pays good money for it, as scripture states: ‘You shall not covet.’ He does not transgress this prohibition until he acquires the object”

17יז

Rabbi Shai Held, "Coveting, Craving... and Being Free,"

But many scholars maintain that coveting means what it sounds like—the internal state of desiring something (or someone) that belongs to someone else. While it is true that the other four commandments in the second tablet refer to actions, the concluding commandment could well be different. Perhaps it concerns the attitude that makes the rest of the violations possible. As Bible scholar John Durham writes, “The tenth commandment… functions as a kind of summary commandment, the violation of which is a first step that can lead to the violation of any one or all of the rest of the commandments. As such, it is necessarily all embracing and descriptive of an attitude rather than a deed.” In other words, coveting may well lead to taking, but it does not denote it. With the last commandment the Torah reaches inward, beyond our actions to our inner life and the motivations that animate our behavior in the world. “All peoples acknowledge that it is forbidden to commit adultery or steal, but here the commandment goes further... it is even forbidden to desire in one’s heart another’s wife or property.” In any case, the verses often cited to connect coveting and acting may well prove just the opposite: “If hamad [covet] had meant ‘covet and seize,’ a second verb [like l-k-h, take] would have been unnecessary...

Dismissing what he sees as the destructive notion that Judaism cares only about what we do but not about what we think or feel, Ibn Ezra insists, radically, that “the main purpose of the all the commandments is to straighten the heart. This is evident from the fact that we distinguish between one who sinned intentionally and one who sinned in error” (Commentary to Deuteronomy 5). The danger, in other words, is not just where covetousness can lead, but what covetousness itself represents. The Torah cares deeply about our inner lives; character matters.

18יח

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath (1951), pp. 89-90.

Nothing is as hard to suppress as the will to be a slave to one’s own pettiness. Gallantly, ceaselessly, quietly, man must fight for inner liberty. Inner liberty depends upon being exempt from domination of things as well as from domination of people. There are many who have acquired a high degree of political and social liberty, but only very few are not enslaved to things. This is our constant problem—how to live with people and remain free, how to live with things and remain independent. In a moment of eternity, while the taste of redemption was still fresh to the former slaves, the people of Israel were given the Ten Words, the Ten Commandments. In its beginning and end, the Decalogue deals with the liberty of man. The first Word—I am the Lord thy God, who brought thee out of the Land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage— reminds him that his outer liberty was given to him by God, and the tenth Word— Thou shalt not covet!—reminds him that he himself must achieve his inner liberty.

19יט
(יב) כַּבֵּ֥ד אֶת־אָבִ֖יךָ וְאֶת־אִמֶּ֑ךָ לְמַ֙עַן֙ יַאֲרִכ֣וּן יָמֶ֔יךָ עַ֚ל הָאֲדָמָ֔ה אֲשֶׁר־ה' אֱלֹהֶ֖יךָ נֹתֵ֥ן לָֽךְ׃ (ס)

(12) Honour thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long upon the land which the Eternal your God gives you.

20כ

Rabbi Joseph Telushkin

The surprising feature of the Fifth Commandment is its insistence that we owe our parents honor, while saying nothing about loving them. It is not as if the Torah is reluctant to command love: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18); “And you shall love the Lord your God” (Deut. 6:5); “You shall love the stranger” (Lev. 19:34).

Why then are we not commanded to love our parents?

I think the real reason is that the Torah realized that it is harder to command love in a relationship as intimate as that between children and parents; either the love is present or it isn’t. In addition, many children, much as they might love their parents most of the time, go through periods of estrangement from them. Thus, what the Torah is offering us is a guideline for behavior even during those periods when we might not be feeling loving toward our parents. Even at those times when we feel our parents have not been fair to us, or even when we have seen them do something we regard as wrong, we are still obligated to honor them.

21כא

ת"ר איזהו מורא ואיזהו כיבוד מורא לא עומד במקומו ולא יושב במקומו ולא סותר את דבריו ולא מכריעו כיבוד מאכיל ומשקה מלביש ומכסה מכניס ומוציא

The rabbis taught: what is 'awe' and what is 'honor'? 'Awe' is not to stand in his place or sit in his place and not to contradict him or support his arguments;

'honor' is to feed and give to drink, clothe, transport...