In Chapter 20 of the book of Exodus, which we will read this month, the Israelites, having just left Egypt, receive the Ten Commandments directly from God. This Revelation was given amidst a backdrop of thunder and lightning, blaring horns, and a smoking mountain. Following this extraordinary event, Moses speaks, at God’s behest, to the people, and says, “You, yourselves, saw that Adonai spoke to you from the very heavens.” What an amazing moment that must have been. A moment of supreme connection between each individual and God.
According to Tradition, the Revelation at Sinai contained a lot more than just the Ten Commandments. The sages pinpoint this moment as the moment in which we received the entire Torah. As it is stated in the Pirke Avot, “Moses received the Torah at Mount Sinai and handed it down to Joshua who handed it down to the elders who handed it over to the prophets who in turn handed it over to the men of the Great Assembly.”
Lest we believe, however, that Torah was only meant for the generation who experienced the Revelation at Sinai, the oration ends with, “You, yourselves, saw that Adonai spoke to you from the very heavens.” A statement that is meant more for us, than for those who had just witnessed it.
We are taught, that each of us should read this text as if we were standing at Sinai hearing God speak to us. On the one hand, the description of this moment, is quite vivid and powerful. So much so, that we can almost imagine being there. On the other hand, because we believe this is the moment the entire Torah was given to our people, the simple act of studying Torah, of hearing the stories, can transport us back to this time.
Rabbi David Wolpe describes it this way, in his book Why Be Jewish?, “At the foot of Mount Sinai, this newly freed people, bewildered and frightened, were charged with their mission. As slaves, the object had been merely to survive. As a nation, their object would be to proclaim the highest purpose of life: that humanity should reach beyond survival and even comfort to a life of holiness. . . The experience at Sinai is the moment when we became a nation, and therefore, the moment when we could act as a people toward holy efforts; The desert mountain of Sinai represents the place where the Jewish spirit reached up to attain the teachings of Torah.”
We are, each us, witnesses to this Revelation. It was a defining moment for our ancestors, and can be so for us. It connects us with our past, it connects us with our people, it connects us to God.
I wish you all a healthy and happy New Year.
May 2018 be a good year for us all.