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Friday, February 5, 2010

So What Exactly Did Moshe Receive at Sinai and Why Should Anyone Care?

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


  1. OK, where does it say that Horev is another name for Sinai?
    Also, I read ch. 18. It talks about the conversation between Yitro and Moshe at mount of the lord, which can be where the Sne scene took place, and then on Ch. 19 they move on from Refidim etc. and they come to "the mountain", a.k.a. "mount Sinai". Doesn't say "the Lord's mount" on ch. 19. So, assuming this is one straight writing sequence, not tampered with by anonymous writers with any hidden agenda (Hah!), I can say it might not be the same place.

  2. Good question! The clearest indication that Horev is identified with Sinai comes much later on in Deuteronomy, to wit:

    דברים פרק ד (י) יוֹם אֲשֶׁר עָמַדְתָּ לִפְנֵי יְקֹוָק אֱלֹהֶיךָ בְּחֹרֵב בֶּאֱמֹר יְקֹוָק אֵלַי הַקְהֶל לִי אֶת הָעָם וְאַשְׁמִעֵם אֶת דְּבָרָי אֲשֶׁר יִלְמְדוּן לְיִרְאָה אֹתִי כָּל הַיָּמִים אֲשֶׁר הֵם חַיִּים עַל הָאֲדָמָה וְאֶת בְּנֵיהֶם יְלַמֵּדוּן:

    Deuteronomy Chapter 4 (10) (The) day which stood before God your Lord at Horev with God saying to me, “Assemble me this nation and I will have them hear My words which they will learn [them] to be in awe of me all of the days which they will live on the earth—and they will teach them their sons.”

    The narrative goes on to describe the giving of the Decalogue in terms which closely match the account in Exodus 19. The latter, of course, clearly cites Sinai as the location while here it is called Horev.

    There are other indications, as well, even in Exodus but this is the most clear cut to my mind. Another one to consider, though, is that God states to Moshe:

    שמות פרק ג (יב) וַיֹּאמֶר כִּי אֶהְיֶה עִמָּךְ וְזֶה לְּךָ הָאוֹת כִּי אָנֹכִי שְׁלַחְתִּיךָ בְּהוֹצִיאֲךָ אֶת הָעָם מִמִּצְרַיִם תַּעַבְדוּן אֶת הָאֱלֹהִים עַל הָהָר הַזֶּה:
    Exodus 3 (12) And He said, “For I will be with you. And this will be the sign that I sent you: When you take the nation out of Egypt you will serve the Lord on this mount.

    This command/prophecy seems to be fulfilled with the story in Exodus 19.

    Of course, we now have new questions: Why does this place have two names? Why use one in any particular place or context?

    As to why this place has two names: I can't really say based on a straight reading of the text. We know there are other places already mentioned which have more than one name (Beit-El/Luz, for example בראשית כח: יט) so it is not without precedent. Why call it Horev in Exodus 3, then Sinai in Exodus 19 and Horev again in Deuteronomy 4, well, I am sure the biblical critics have a field day with that and I think it is, in any event, a very worthy question. However, I am not going to attempt a better answer now in order to stay on track with my main line of inquiry.

    I will point out, though, that Mandelkern in his Concordance says that Horev is a part of Sinai which makes sense based on some later passages, methinks.

    You wrote: So, assuming this is one straight writing sequence, not tampered with by anonymous writers with any hidden agenda (Hah!), I can say it might not be the same place.

    I will just say this in response: I look at the text of the Torah as a single whole in the same way I would view any other text presented as a whole. Even critical theory which posits that the Torah is comprised of earlier fragments from various authors can't skirt the facts that

    1)We have no historical/archaeological evidence for these fragments outside of the Torah itself.
    2)Those texts which they say the Torah is comprised of are presented to us a single whole text. So whoever put the fragments together had something in mind in his/her editing and redaction.

    As for these chapters being 'one straight writing sequence:' I am not sure what you mean. If you mean that they were all written by a single author, well, I have addressed that somewhat in my comments. If you mean something else, you can let me know!

  3. Hi Shel!!!!
    I am enjoying this analysis! Can you tell me, please, whether the word/term used to indicate Mount Sinai at different points in the text, has a particular intrinsic quality that might convey the reason why it is used at that point in the narrative....Maybe the root meaning of the word?????

  4. The short answer is: I would like to think that Sinai and Horev are used in specific contexts because of their intrinsic meaning. I think an argument can be made to that effect but I am not going to try to make it here.

    Horev seems to be related to the Hebrew חרב 'cherev' which means sword. That may refer to some conceptual aspect of the mount as a site for delivering the word of God which carries the image of great power as does a sword. It might also refer to the way the mount looks, that is somewhat like a sword.

    Sinai doesn't seem to readily connect to a Hebrew root. It is similar to Sin which is the name of the desert/wilderness that is next to Sinai.