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REMEMBERING SINAI
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The Jewish People are commanded to guard the memories of the Revelation at Sinai, when G-d revealed Himself in the presence of the entire nation, numbering several million souls.

 

Mount Sinai was the scene of the most pivotal event of Jewish history.  The Torah goes to great lengths to describe the events there; the Oral Law also devotes a great deal of  attention to what happened when the Torah was given to Israel at Sinai.

In addition to describing the events of Sinai, the Torah demands that we recall what happened there, and make it clear to our children.  This is not just a recommendation; it is an obligation.  We find that the Jewish People are commanded to guard the memories of the Revelation at Sinai, when G-d revealed Himself in the presence of the entire nation, numbering several million souls.  In the Book of Deuteronomy, we find a positive commandment to retain these memories and refresh them, even thousands of years later:

"Only take heed and guard yourself very carefully, lest you forget the things that your eyes saw.  Do not let (this memory) depart from your hearts, all the days of your life.  Teach your children and children's children about the day you stood before G-d your L-rd at Horeb, when G-d said to me, "Gather the people for Me, that I may let them hear My words that they may learn to fear Me all the days that they live on the earth and that they may teach their children."

(Deuteronomy 4:9-10)

(Note: “Horeb, or Horev, in Hebrew, is another name used by the Torah for Sinai.)

At the time, the Jewish People attained a sublime spiritual level of prophecy as never before.  It was a unique event in the history of the People of Israel, and of the entire world.

The Jewish nation was witness to the giving of the Torah, directly from G-d, with no intermediary.  Ever since, we are in a position to confute the claims of anyone who claims differently.  No imitation Torah, no counterfeit version of this unique document, can be foisted onto a nation who received the original directly from its Author.  Therefore, at Sinai, G-d told Moses:

"Lo, I come to you in a thick cloud, so that the people will hear when I speak to you, and then they will believe you, also, forever."  

(Exodus 19:9)

The faith established by the events at Sinai was not just for the moment, nor for the generation who experienced, them.  As the Creator Himself tells Moses, they were programmed in order that the people if Israel "may also believe you forever." 

From that moment onward, no one could deny the Revelation, nor the fact that G-d had spoken directly to Moses, our teacher and mentor.  An entire nation had watched happen; there was no way it could be denied.

Let us review, day by day, the events of that momentous week in the history of our nation:

Sunday, the first day of the month of Sivan:

The first day of Sivan fell on a Sunday.  On this day, the Jewish People arrived at the foot of Mount Sinai and encamped there, on the eastern side of the mountain, as the Torah tells us: They had departed from Rephidim and had arrived in the Sinai Desert , camping in the wilderness.  Israel camped opposite the mountain.   (Exodus 19:2)

Monday, the second of Sivan:

Early in the morning, with first light, Moses went up the mountain.  The Scripture tells us: Moses went up to G-d.  G-d called to him from the mountain and said:

"Thus shall you say to the House of Jacob and tell to the Children of Israel:

'You have seen what I did to Egypt, carrying you on eagles' wings and bringing you to Me.  And now, if you will  hearken diligently to My voice, and you will guard My covenant, you shall be My special treasure among the nations, even though all the world is Mine.  And you shall be a kingdom of priests for Me, and a holy nation.'

"These are the words which you shall say to the Children of Israel."

(Exodus 19:3-6)

Moses followed G-d's instructions explicitly.  With these words, he informed the Jewish People that they were about to become G-d's own treasured nation.  This was the first step in their preparation for the Revelation and for receiving the Torah at Sinai.  Moses came back down from the mountain on the same day.   He delivered G-d's message, first to the Elders, and then to the entire nation.  In the words of the Torah:

Moses came (back) and summoned the Elders of the nation, conveying to them all that G-d had said.  All the people answered as one and said, "All that G-d has spoken, we will do."

(ibid. 19:7-8)

Miraculously six hundred thousand people answered as one.

Tuesday, the third of Sivan

Again Moses went up on Mount Sinai early in the morning.  This time, he took with him the Jewish People's full agreement to the proposal to enter into a covenant with G-d, as we find in the continuation of the verse:

And Moses brought the people's reply back to G-d.

(Ibid. 19:8)

After Moses had answered G-d in the name of the people, G-d informed him that his prophecy would never be denied, at any point in history:

"Lo, I come to you in a thick cloud, so that the people will  hear when I speak to you, and then they will believe in you, also, forever."

(Exodus 19:9)

The entire nation observed, firsthand, Moses' exceptional closeness to G-d as He spoke to him.  Henceforth, no would-be prophet could attempt to contradict the words of G-d which Moses conveyed to the nation.  An entire nation of over three million people had seen with their own eyes that there was no human being closer to G-d than Moses himself.  Such a phenomenon could not have been contrived or staged, or introduced into the nation's historical records at a later date.  There was no doubt that it must be authentic.

In addition, the Torah assures us that there never will arise another prophet of the stature of Moses.

Wednesday, the fourth of Sivan

On Wednesday, G-d informed Moses that the people must prepare themselves according to His instructions before He would reveal Himself to them.  Moses was instructed to teach the people how to sanctify themselves through the commandments of hagbalah  (literally, "setting borders") so that they would be adequately prepared to experience G-d's presence:

"Go to the people, and sanctify them today and tomorrow.  Let them immerse their clothing. They will then be ready for the third day, for on the third day, G-d will descend on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people.

"Set a boundary for the people around [the mountain] and tell them to be careful not to climb the mountain, or even to touch its edge... But when the trumpet is sounded with a long blast, they will then be allowed to climb the mountain.

(ibid. 19:10-13)

Moses conveyed the people's acceptance of the commandments of hagbalah  to G-d:

Then G-d told him to inform the people of an additional commandment, prishah.  That same day, Moses went down to the people and told them of G-d's additional commandment in preparation for receiving the Torah:

And Moses went down from the mountain to the people.  He sanctified them and they washed their garments.  And he said to the people:

"Be prepared; for three days, do not draw near to a woman."

(ibid. 19:14-15)

Also on that day, the people of Israel were given the seven Noahide commandments which are incumbent upon all mankind, Jewish or gentile. They were also commanded concerning the Sabbath, honoring one's parents, and the red heifer.  The commandments given to them at Marah were repeated.

Thursday, the fifth of Sivan

On Thursday, Moses rose early in the morning and erected an altar.  He sent the firstborn men to offer sacrifices on the altar.  Half of the blood of the sacrifices was cast onto the altar and the other half sprinkled over the people.

And he rose early in the morning and he built an altar at the foot of the mountain, along with twelve pillars for the twelve tribes of Israel.  And he sent the (consecrated) young men among Israel and they offered oxen as burnt offerings and peace offerings to G-d.  And Moses took half of the blood and he placed it in large bowls, and half the blood he cast onto the altar.  And he took the book of the covenant and he read it out to the people, and they said:

"All that God has said, we shall do and we shall hearken."

And Moses took the blood and he cast it on the people, and he said:

"Behold the blood of the covenant which G-d has made with you regarding these matters.

And Moses went up, along with Aharon and Nadav and Avihu and the seventy of the Elders of Israel."

(ibid. 24:4-9)

Afterwards, Moses read the book of the covenant to the people.  Their reaction was

"And all the people answered with one voice and said: "All the matters that G-d has spoken we shall do."

(ibid. 24:3)

It was at this point that the Jewish People were asked to confirm their consent between them and G-d. 

Then the formal ceremony of confirming the covenant took place.  First, the terms of the agreement were read out before the people, then, afterward, the people gave their consent to accepting it:

And he took the book of the covenant and he read it out to the people, and they said:

"All that God has said, we shall do and we shall hearken."

(ibid. 24:7)

It was at this point that the pact was actually formalized and took effect. Therefore, in addition to their promise to fulfill all the commandments of the Torah, expressed by the word na'aseh, "we shall do", the people said "nishma", "we shall hearken" , as well, to indicate the fact that they accepted the terms of the pact between their nation and G-d.

Friday, the sixth of Sivan

On the sixth of Sivan, which was a Friday that year, the Torah should have been given to the Jewish People.  It was the third of the Three Days of Limitation.  Moses decided to add another day on his own initiative.

He was commanded: "And you shall sanctify today and tomorrow." Since the commandment of prishah had been given in the middle of the fourth day, Moses applied its restrictions to the fifth and sixth days, each a full cycle of twenty-four hours.  Otherwise, the first day, Wednesday, would have been less than twenty-four hours.

As a result of Moses' decision, the actual giving of the Torah was postponed to the seventh day of the month of Sivan, which fell on Shabbos (the Sabbath).

We see that G-d agreed with his decision, as the Holy Presence did not come down to Mount Sinai until the seventh day, Shabbos in the morning.

The entire day of Friday was spent in anxious anticipation of the Revelation which was about to take place the following day.

Shabbos, the seventh of Sivan

On this day, G-d presented His favored treasure, the Torah, to His favored nation, Israel.

After the Torah was given, the Children of Israel were commanded to obey the precepts listed at the end of the Parashah of Yisro.  They were told not to make idols of silver and gold.  Then they were commanded to build an altar of stone, but prohibited to use any metal instrument in its construction.  Also, G-d instructed them not to build a stairway leading up to the stone altar, but rather to make a rampway.

Afterwards, Moses was again commanded go up on Mount Sinai in order to receive the Ten Commandments engraved on tablets of stone, and the Torah:

G-d said to Moses:

"Come up to Me, to the mountain, and be there and let me give you the tablets of stone and the Torah and the commandments which I have written in order to teach them."

(Exodus 24:12)

That same day, Moses went up onto Mount Sinai in order to remain there forty days and forty nights, to master the knowledge of the Torah so that he might teach it to all of Israel.  


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