We all know that Moshe received the Torah at Sinai, right?
Um, how does anyone know that?
The Mishnah in Avot teaches us that Moshe received the Torah at Sinai. Why do I refer to the Mishnah and not directly to this week's parsha? Well, this week's parsha doesn't really say that Moshe received the Torah at Sinai. This week's parsha describes the revelation at Sinai and tells us certain things which God said at Sinai. But there isn't a single verse which says Moshe went up to Sinai and received the Torah, period.
As we begin reading this week's parsha, if we keep a close eye, we will discover that this narrative is not a simple one. Moshe does ascend Mt. Sinai (more than once) and he clearly receives commandments from God. But what exactly did he receive? Over what period of time?
Does it matter what exactly Moshe received at Sinai?
I am starting this blog kind of late since Shabbat will begin shortly. However, as the questions posed here can only be answered by a longer view of the text of the Torah itself, we'll start with some points today and come back to this theme many more times over the coming year.
So, to begin this sojourn, let's do some simple readings.
From the time the Children of Israel leave Egypt, they go on a series of trips (מסעים in Hebrew). The route is:
From Raamses to Succot (Exodus 12:37)
From Succot to Eitam (Ex. 13:20)
They return and camp on the edge of the Red Sea (Ex. 14:2)
They go from the Red Sea to the Wilderness of Shur (Ex. 15:22)
They come to Eilim (Ex. 15:27)
They leave Eilim and come to Wilderness of Sin (Ex. 16:1)
The leave the Wilderness of Sin and come to R'fidim (Ex. 17:1)
They leave R'fidim and come to the Wilderness of Sinai (Ex. 19:1,2)
So far so good. Except that I purposely skipped over chapter 18!
If you see all of the references above in their original form and context, you would see that these verses are written stylistically the same, particularly the last five. Basically they say that the Children of Israel left X place and went to Y place.
Now if you look at the first part of this week's parsha you will see another geographic reference:
שמות פרק יח (ה) וַיָּבֹא יִתְרוֹ חֹתֵן מֹשֶׁה וּבָנָיו וְאִשְׁתּוֹ אֶל מֹשֶׁה אֶל הַמִּדְבָּר אֲשֶׁר הוּא חֹנֶה שָׁם הַר הָאֱלֹהִים:
Exodus Chapter 18 (5) And Yitro the father in law of Moshe came and his sons and his wife to Moshe to the wilderness where he was camping there (at) the Mount of the Lord.
Where is this Mount of the Lord? Last time it was mentioned was when Moshe first encounters God (Ex. 3:1) where it is also called Chorev which is yet another name for Mt. Sinai.
So Yitro meets up with Moshe in the wilderness of Sinai. But wait—according to the verses I referenced earlier, Moshe and the C. of Israel don't get to Sinai until the following chapter!
Clearly, someone's got some 'splainin' to do.
Why this geographic inquiry is necessary for answering our original question about what Moshe received at Sinai is also still not clear.
I'll continue next week if Hashem grants me the well being to do so!
Shabbat Shalom all