Posts Tagged ‘Mount Sinai’

The G-D of Glory Thunders

June 3, 2008

Giving of Torah

We are about to celebrate the holiday of Shavuot, the time of the giving and the acceptance of the Torah. This acceptance at Mount Sinai gave us Jewish people our identity as a Torah nation.

Having encamped before Mount Sinai over 3000 years ago, the Israelites were told that from this mountain they would receive the commandments of G-d, and that they would hear His very voice. They were commanded to give three days to preparation for that solemnity, for on the third day G-D would come down on the mountain in sight of all the people. Moses set a boundary up to which they might go, and they were prohibited under penalty of death from even touching the mountain. On the third day the mountain was enveloped in a cloud; it quaked and was filled with smoke as G-D descended upon it, while lightning-flashes shot forth, and the roar of thunder mingled with the long blast of the shofar. Then Moses appeared upon it and promulgated the Ten Commandments, after which G-D instructed him in His Laws. The entire nation of Israel was in mortal fear over the smoking mountain and the blasts of the shofar that accompanied the sight.

We are told that at Mount Sinai, a sound from heaven, like that of a ram’s horn, increased in volume so that it was inescapably loud, like the sound of a violent rushing wind. The sound filled their entire beings and vibrated through their bodies.

You shall be holy men unto me (Exodus 22:31) — Thunder and lightning began early on the third day. Then the powerful sound of the shofar came from the sky, louder and louder until the very air rang with it. By then the mountain writhed in smoke and fire. This visual display would have made Fourth of July fireworks seem like a child’s sparkler. Exodus 19:18 tells us that the L-rd descended in fire on the mountain, but other Jewish sources provide additional imagery. As the people watched with intensifying terror, Moses went up to God, who spoke to him. They could hear his voice, though it is unlikely they could understand the words. Perhaps he spoke in a language they could not understand, or perhaps their comprehension was overwhelmed by the awesome presence, the true and terrible dimensions of “G-d with us.”

Can you imagine hearing the voice of the Creator speaking — there was thunder, lightning, noisy ram’s horns and the mountain smoking! High atop Mt. Sinai, G-D revealed the moral, civil, and ceremonial laws. Mount Sinai was then enveloped in a cloud for six days, while on its summit, fire, the emblem of G-D, was seen burning. On the seventh day Moses was commanded by Hashem to ascend the mountain to receive the tables of the Law; he remained there forty days and nights (Ex.24:9-10,16-18). An ancient manuscript, called a targum, found in a library in Egypt, states the following: “The first commandment, when it left the mouth of the Holy One; …as meteors and lightning and as torches of fire: a fiery torch to its right and a fiery torch to its left, which burst forth and flew in the air of the heavenly expanse; it proceeded to circle around the camp of Israel.”

The Song of Moses refers to the solemn promulgation of the Law on Mount Sinai (Deut.33:2); so does the Song of Deborah (Judges 5), which declares that the “earth trembled,” the “heavens dropped, the clouds also dropped water,” and the “mountains melted” (comp. Ps. 18:9,17).

These accounts are similar to the biblical accounts in Exodus and of King David: “The voice of the Lord divides the flames of fire. The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness” (Ps.29:7-8)

God’s “special effects” at Sinai grabbed the attention of the children of Israel and etched the giving of the Law into the collective memory of the Jewish people.”