My Recollection of Revelation: A Text Study

When it was time for the Jewish people to receive the Torah, Moses led them out to Mount Sinai and had them stand all around the mountain as he climbed the mountain. The mountain and the sky above were filled with fog and smoke, so that the people couldn’t see a thing. It was dark, and no Torah came. The people looked around and saw that in the circle around Mount Sinai, there was an empty space. In fact, there were two empty spaces. Someone was missing. I don’t know who it was. Maybe it was a grandmother who had stayed behind to change a diaper and wasn’t sure that it was appropriate to go directly from that to the Revelation of God’s Torah, and so was nervously hanging back a bit. Well, Moses came down and found that grandmother, or whomever it was, and brought her to her place in the circle. And Moses stood next to her.

Now, when they took their spots in the circle, suddenly, as if someone had plugged in the plug at an amusement park, the whole mountain lit up, and, indeed, it lifted into the air above their heads, as it is written “they stood beneath the mountain — vayityatzvu betakhtit hahar.” The fog and smoke filled the space under the mountain as well, but as they began to look around and see each other’s faces, they also noticed that the fog was beginning to condense and clarify.

They saw that it was condensing and clarifying into letters. A great rolling mist of letters. And they saw the letters of Torah, of Talmud, they saw the letters of midrash and of Maimonides, and of the Jewish poets of medieval Spain. They saw the letters of the words we, here, speak on a Shabbat morning in discussing the verses of the Torah. … For it is written, “The entire people saw the voices — vekhol ha’am ro’im et hakolot.

And as the people watched, this great tumble and mist of letters, of voices, rose up from under the mountain and ascended up to heaven. And out of the rising letters came a new Voice. It was a Voice that was at once booming and terrifying, but also, miraculously, as comforting as the voice of the person you love, as quiet as your own thoughts. And the Voice spoke these words, “I am the Eternal, your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt … .” And the people heard God speak the 10 words, the Ten Commandments, through to their last word, “lere’ekha — to your neighbor.”

THE TORAH TEXT

Exodus 19

י   וַיֹּאמֶר יי אֶל-מֹשֶׁה לֵךְ אֶל-הָעָם וְקִדַּשְׁתָּם הַיּוֹם וּמָחָר וְכִבְּסוּ שִֹמְלֹתָם: יא   וְהָיוּ נְכֹנִים לַיּוֹם הַשְּׁלִישִׁי כִּי בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁלִשִׁי יֵרֵד יי לְעֵינֵי כָל-הָעָם עַל-הַר סִינָי: יב   וְהִגְבַּלְתָּ אֶת-הָעָם סָבִיב לֵאמֹר הִשָּׁמְרוּ לָכֶם עֲלוֹת בָּהָר וּנְגֹעַ בְּקָצֵהוּ כָּל-הַנֹּגֵעַ בָּהָר מוֹת יוּמָת:

טז   וַיְהִי בַיּוֹם הַשְּׁלִישִׁי בִּהְיֹת הַבֹּקֶר וַיְהִי קֹלֹת וּבְרָקִים וְעָנָן כָּבֵד עַל-הָהָר וְקֹל שֹׁפָר חָזָק מְאֹד וַיֶּחֱרַד כָּל-הָעָם אֲשֶׁר בַּמַּחֲנֶה: יז   וַיּוֹצֵא מֹשֶׁה אֶת-הָעָם לִקְרַאת הָאֱלֹהִים מִן-הַמַּחֲנֶה וַיִּתְיַצְּבוּ בְּתַחְתִּית הָהָר:

יח   וְהַר סִינַי עָשַׁן כֻלּוֹ מִפְּנֵי אֲשֶׁר יָרַד עָלָיו יי בָּאֵשׁ וַיַּעַל עֲשָׁנוֹ כְּעֶשֶׁן הַכִּבְשָׁן וַיֶּחֱרַד כָּל-הָהָר מְאֹד: יט   וַיְהִי קוֹל הַשֹּׁפָר הוֹלֵךְ וְחָזֵק מְאֹד מֹשֶׁה יְדַבֵּר וְהָאֱלֹהִים יַעֲנֶנּוּ בְקוֹל:

 

  1. The ETERNAL said to Mosheh: Go to the People and consecrate them today and tomorrow and let them wash their clothes. 11. And let them be ready for the third day, for on the third day, the ETERNAL will descend in the sight of the entire People upon Mount Sinai. 12. Make the People a border around, saying: Keep yourselves from going up the mountain or touching its edges; whoever touches the mountain will indeed be put to death.

  1. Now it was on the third day, it was in the morning, there were voices [or: thunders/sounds] and lightnings and a heavy cloud on the mountain and the very strong voice of a shofar, and the entire People that was in the camp trembled. 17. Mosheh brought the People out of the camp towards [or: to meet] God, and they stood at the bottom of the mountain. 18. Mount Sinai was entirely smoke, God having descended upon it in fire, and its smoke arose like the smoking of a furnace, and the entire mountain trembled greatly. 19. The voice of the shofar was very much growing stronger and stronger; Mosheh would speak, and God would answer with a voice.

Exodus 20

א   וַיְדַבֵּר אֱלֹהִים אֵת כָּל-הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה לֵאמֹר:

     ב   אָנֹכִי יי אֱלֹהֶיךָ אֲשֶׁר הוֹצֵאתִיךָ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם מִבֵּית עֲבָדִים:

 יד   לֹא תַחְמֹד בֵּית רֵעֶךָ      לֹא-תַחְמֹד אֵשֶׁת רֵעֶךָ וְעַבְדּוֹ וַאֲמָתוֹ וְשׁוֹרוֹ וַחֲמֹרוֹ וְכֹל אֲשֶׁר לְרֵעֶךָ:

 

  1. God spoke all these utterances [or: words, things], saying: 2. I am the ETERNAL your God that brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the servants’ quarters.

  1. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male or female servant nor his ass nor anything belonging to your neighbor.

 טו   וְכָל-הָעָם רֹאִים אֶת-הַקּוֹלֹת וְאֶת-הַלַּפִּידִם וְאֵת קוֹל הַשֹּׁפָר וְאֶת-הָהָר עָשֵׁן וַיַּרְא הָעָם וַיָּנֻעוּ וַיַּעַמְדוּ מֵרָחֹק:

  1. Now the entire People were seeing the voices and the torch-flames and the sound of the shofar voice and the mountain smoking; the People saw and they faltered and stood far off.

 

STAND ALL AROUND THE MOUNTAIN

Targum Yonatan Exodus 19:12

ותתחם ית עמא ויקומון חזור חזור לטורא …

Make the People a border, and let them stand all around the mountain …

 

SOMEONE WAS MISSING

Midrash Bereshit Rabbah. Genesis 70:8-9 (Parashat Vayetzei)

[Commenting on Genesis 29:1-3:

א   וַיִּשָּׂא יַעֲקֹב רַגְלָיו וַיֵּלֶךְ אַרְצָה בְנֵי-קֶדֶם: ב   וַיַּרְא וְהִנֵּה בְאֵר בַּשָּׂדֶה וְהִנֵּה-שָׁם שְׁלשָׁה עֶדְרֵי-צֹאן רֹבְצִים עָלֶיהָ כִּי מִן-הַבְּאֵר הַהִוא יַשְׁקוּ הָעֲדָרִים וְהָאֶבֶן גְּדֹלָה עַל-פִּי הַבְּאֵר: ג   וְנֶאֶסְפוּ-שָׁמָּה כָל-הָעֲדָרִים וְגָלֲלוּ אֶת-הָאֶבֶן מֵעַל פִּי הַבְּאֵר וְהִשְׁקוּ אֶת-הַצֹּאן וְהֵשִׁיבוּ אֶת-הָאֶבֶן עַל-פִּי הַבְּאֵר לִמְקֹמָהּ:

Jacob lifted up his legs and went to the land of the people of the east. And he saw and lo, a well in the field and lo three flocks of sheep crouching by it, for out of that well, they would water the flocks, but the stone was large on the mouth of the well. And all the flocks gathered there, and they rolled the stone from the mouth of the well, and watered the sheep, and returned the stone to the mouth of the well, to its place.]

ד”א וירא והנה באר בשדה, זה בית הכנסת, והנה שם שלשה עדרי צאן, אלו שלשה קרואים, כי מן הבאר וגו’, שמשם היו שומעים את התורה, והאבן גדולה, זה יצר הרע, ונאספו שמה כל העדרים, זה הצבור, וגללו את האבן, שמשם היו שומעין את התורה, והשיבו את האבן וגו’, שכיון שהם יוצאים להם יצר הרע חוזר למקומו.

Another thing: “He saw and lo, a well in the field”: This is the synagogue. “And lo, there were three flocks of sheep there”: These are the three called [to the Torah]. “For out of that well, etc.”: for from there they would hear the Torah. “But the stone was large”: This is the yetzer hara [evil inclination]. “And all the flocks gathered there”: This is the community. “And they rolled the stone”: for from there they would hear the Torah. “And returned the stone, etc.”: for as soon as they leave, the yetzer hara [evil inclination] returns to its place.

ט ר’ יוחנן פתר לה בסיני, וירא והנה באר זה סיני, והנה שם שלשה, כהנים לוים וישראלים, כי מן הבאר ההיא, שמשם שמעו עשרת הדברות, והאבן גדולה זו שכינה, ונאספו שמה כל העדרים, ר’ שמעון בן יהודה איש כפר עכו אמר משום ר’ שמואל שאילו היו ישראל חסרים עוד אחד לא היו מקבלים את התורה, וגללו את האבן, שמשם היו שומעים את הקול ושמעו עשרת הדברות, והשיבו את האבן )שמות כ( אתם ראיתם כי מן השמים דברתי וגו’.

  1. Rabbi Yohanan interpreted it as being about Sinai. “He saw and lo a well”: This is Sinai. “And lo there were three”: Kohanim, Levites and Israelites. “For out of that well”: for from there they heard the Ten Utterances. “But the stone was large”: This is Shekhinah, the Divine Presence. “And all the flocks gathered there”: Rabbi Shim’on ben Yehudah, a man from the village of Acco, said in the name of Rabbi Shmuel: If Israel had been missing even a single person, they wouldn’t have received the Torah. “And they rolled the stone”: for from there they would hear the Voice and they heard the Ten Utterances. “And returned the stone”: “You saw that I spoke out of the heavens, etc.” (Exodus 20:19)

Similarly, Midrash Mekhilta on Exodus 19:11 (see above):

 לעיני כל העם מלמד שאם היו חסרים עד אחד אינו כדאי לקבל.

“In the sight of the entire People” teaches that if there were missing even one, it would not have sufficed to receive [the Torah].

SEE EACH OTHER’S FACES

Talmud Bavli Berakhot 30a (on prayer)

עומד במזרח ־ מחזיר פניו למערב, במערב ־ מחזיר פניו למזרח, בדרום ־ מחזיר פניו לצפון, בצפון ־ מחזיר פניו לדרוםֹ נמצאו כל ישראל מכוונין את לבם למקום אחד

In the east, turn your face to the west; in the west, turn your face to the east; in the south, turn your face to the north; in the north, turn your face to the south. So you find all Israel to be directing their hearts to one place — one Makom

Martin Buber. I and Thou. (Beginning of part 3)

The extended lines of relation meet in the eternal Thou.

THEY SAW THE LETTERS OF TORAH, OF TALMUD … OF THE WORDS WE, HERE, SPEAK

Kli Yakar (R. Ephraim of Luntschitz, 1550-1619) on Exodus 20:15

… כל דבור ודבור שיצא מפי הקב”ה, מיד נתגשם אותו דבור והיה בו כל כך ממשות עד שהיו רואין באויר כל האותיות פורחות וכאילו היה הכל כתוב לפניהם, וראיה לזה ממה שנאמר (תהלים לג ו) בדבר ה’ שמים נעשו וגו.  הרי שכל דבור שיוצא מפי הקב”ה בורא בריאה חדשה ….

Each and every utterance that came out of the Holy Blessed One’s mouth, that utterance immediately became concretized and was so very real that they saw all the letters flying in the air, and it was as if it was all written in front of them. And the proof of this is what is said (Psalms 33:6): “By the utterance of the ETERNAL the heavens were made,” etc. Indeed every utterance that proceeds from the Holy Blessed One’s mouth creates a new creation.

Midrash Exodus Rabbah 47:1

בשעה שנגלה הקב”ה בסיני ליתן תורה לישראל אמרה למשה על הסדר מקרא ומשנה תלמוד ואגדה, שנאמר (שמות כ) וידבר אלהים את כל הדברים האלה, אפילו מה שהתלמיד שואל לרב אמר הקב”ה למשה באותה שעה

At the time that the Holy Blessed One was revealed at Sinai, to give Torah to Israel, God communicated it to Mosheh in order: Scripture, Mishnah, Talmud and Aggadah, as it is said (Exodus 20:1): “God spoke all these utterances.” Even what the student asks the teacher, the Holy Blessed One communicated to Mosheh at that time.

THE MOUNTAIN LIFTED OVER THEM

Talmud Shabbat 88a.

ויתיצבו בתחתית ההר, אמר רב אבדימי בר חמא בר חסא: מלמד שכפה הקדוש ברוך הוא עליהם את ההר כגיגית, ואמר להם: אם אתם מקבלים התורה ־ מוטב, ואם לאו ־ שם תהא קבורתכם.

“They stood at the bottom of the mount”: Rav Avdimi bar Hama bar Hasa said, “It teaches that the Holy Blessed One made the mountain a domed roof over them and said to them, ‘If you accept the Torah, good; but if not, there will be your grave.”

Targum Yonatan to Exodus 19:17

ואנפיק משה ית עמא לקדמות דיי מן משריתא ומן יד תליש מארי עלמא ית טוורא וזקפיה באוירא והוה זייג הי כאספקלריא ואתעתדו תחותי  טוורא.

Mosheh brought the People out of the camp towards [or: to meet] the Eternal and immediately the Master of the Universe plucked up the mountain and stood it in the air and it was clear as glass and they stood under the mountain.

THE VOICE:

Exodus Rabbah 5:9

בוא וראה היאך הקול יוצא, אצל כל ישראל כל אחד ואחד לפי כחו, הזקנים לפי כחן, הבחורים לפי כחן, והקטנים לפי כחן, והיונקים לפי כחן, והנשים לפי כחן, ואף משה לפי כחו, שנאמר (שמות יט) משה ידבר והאלהים יעננו בקול, בקול שהיה יכול לסובלו

Come see how the Voice goes out, with all Israel each according to his [/her] power: the elders according to their power, the young men according to their power, the little ones according to their power, the sucklings according to their power and the women according to their power, and even Moses according to his power, as it is said (Exodus 19): “Mosheh would speak, and God would answer with a voice” — with a voice that he was able to bear.

Numbers Rabbah 14:3

כתיב (שמות יט) משה ידבר והאלהים יעננו בקול האלהים ידבר ומשה יעננו בקול אין כתיב כאן אלא משה ידבר והאלהים יעננו בקול בקולו של משה היה מדבר עמו

It is written “Mosheh would speak, and God would answer with a voice.” It doesn’t say “God would speak and Mosheh would answer with a voice,” but “Mosheh would speak, and God would answer with a voice” — with Mosheh’s voice God spoke with him.

AN EXAMPLE OF A ‘WOMEN AND BABIES AT SINAI’ POEM

Divine Name

Chava Pinchas-Cohen; Translation: Jeremy Schwartz

They’ve all gone already to the mount and are waiting

Waiting to see, in great silence waiting,

Unlike their usual ways, even the donkeys, even the camels

In this silence, not a bird chirped

Even children on the shoulders of forebears,

And the silence is too great to bear, as before a matter

Awesome and magnificent and I still wanted

To finish hanging the laundry

To make time for myself to adjust my scents

And I warmed the milk for the baby, so he wouldn’t get hungry

That he wouldn’t cry, heaven forbid, at the inappropriate

Moment, how long ’til the end. The expectation

That the laundry and the baby would dry some.

No one knew

But I saw that a light wind, like the breathing of a sleeping man, passed

Through the laundry and billowed the belly

Of my gown and the Sabbath table-cloth

Was a white sail in the middle of the wilderness

 

And we proceeded from there on the blue

Far away to the place where

 

We’ll split pomegranates and eat their juice

To the place where

Love

Has a Divine name.

 

שֵׁם מְפוֹרָשׁ

כֻּלָם כְּבָר הָלְכוּ אֶל הָהָר וּמְחַכִּים

מְחַכִּים לִרְאוֹת, בְּשֶׁקֶט רַב מְחַכִּים,

שֶׁלֹא כְּמִנְהָגָם גַּם הַחֲמוֹרִים, גַּם הַגְּמַלִּים

בַּשֶּׁקֶט הַזֶּה צִפּוֹר לֹא צִיְּצָה

גַּם יְלָדִים עַל כִּתְפֵי אֲבוֹתֵיהֶם,

וְהַשֶּׁקֶט רַב מִנְּשׂוֹא כְּמוֹ לִפְנֵי דָּבָר

נוֹרָא וְגָדוֹל וַאֲנִי עוֹד רָצִיתִי

לְהַסְפִּיק לִתְלוֹת אֶת הַכְּבָסִים

לַעֲשׂוֹת זְמַן לְעַצְמִי לְתַקֵּן רֵיחוֹתַי

וְחִמַּמְתִּי אֶת הֶחָלָב לַתִּינוֹק, שֶׁלֹּא יִרְעַב

שֶׁלֹּא יִבְכֶּה חָלִילָה, בָּרֶגַע הַלֹּא

מַתְאִים, כַּמָּה זְמַן עַד כְּלוֹת. הַצִּפִּיָּה

שֶׁתִּתְיַבֵּשׁ הַכְּבִיסָה וְהַתִּינוֹק מָה.

אִישׁ לֹא יָדַע

וַאֲנִי רָאִיתִי שֶׁרוּחַ קַלָּה, כּמוֹ נְשִׁימָתוֹ שֶׁל אִישׁ יָשֵׁן, עָבְרָה

בַּכְּבָסִים וְנִפְּחָה כְּרֵסָהּ

שֶׁל כֻּתָּנְתִּי וּמַפַּת הַשַּׁבָּת

הָיְתָה מִפְרָשׂ לָבָן בְּאֶמְצַע הַמִּדְבָּר

וְיָצָאנוּ מִשָּׁם עַל הַתְּכֵלֶת

הַרְחֵק לַמָּקוֹם בּוֹ

נִפְרֹט רִמּוֹנִים ונֹאכַל עֲסִיסָם

לַמָּקוֹם בּוֹ

לָאַהֲבָה

שֵׁם מְפוֹרָשׁ

Note: The Hebrew title of the poem, “Shem Meforash,” which is also its last line, cannot be completely translated to English. It literally means “explicit name,” but generally refers to the Divine Name of four letters (YHWH), which traditionally Jews do not, in fact, pronounce explicitly.

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We each possess a perfect, pure and untainted core.

The Reconstructionist Network

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