Next Stop, Mount Sinai
The enlightenment achieved by Abraham and the profound relationship with God that this led to would become a guiding light for all humanity. Like a ship guided through the night’s dense fog by the distant glow from a lighthouse, the people that would eventually be the heirs to God’s Covenant with Abraham would serve as a guiding light through the frighteningly dark nights of human history.
From this point in the Torah, from the establishment of the covenant between God and Abraham, until the closing lines of God’s book, the recording of early world history becomes very Judaeocentric.
Together, God and Abraham planted the seeds that would one day restore the beauty of a long-forgotten garden. But first, that plant had to take root and grow. And grow it did. Through the life of Abraham and his wife Sarah, continuing with their son Jacob and his wife Rachel, and all the way through the lives of their great-grandchildren who settled—and were eventually enslaved—in Egypt, the seed of the Covenant grew until one day it struck roots so deep that nothing could ever dislodge it.
Let’s Head for the Hills Fellas
As you may recall from Sunday school—or from The Prince of Egypt—after God flattened the Egyptians with ten plagues and then finished them off with that old splitting-of-the-Red-Sea trick, He headed straight for the hills—Mount Sinai, to be exact. And Abraham’s descendants were right there with Him, every step of the way.
While the original covenant was binding on Abraham and his descendants, God wanted those descendants to use their own free will to confirm their commitment to it. So, in the absence of a venue as majestic as Versailles or as dignified as the east lawn of the White House, God settled on a small mountain in the Sinai desert. What was about to happen at Mount Sinai was the ratification of the Covenant with the nation that had grown out of the family of Abraham and Sarah.
Let’s listen in on the proceedings of the ratification:
Guess Who We’re Meeting with Tomorrow?
“In the third month after the exodus of the Jews from Egypt, on this day, they came to the wilderness of Sinai … And Moses ascended to God and God called to him from the mountain and told him what to say to [Abraham’s descendants] the house of Jacob and the children of Israel. ‘You saw what I did to the Egyptians … and now if you will listen carefully and preserve My Covenant, then, as a nation, you will have a unique relationship with Me …'”
So Moses relayed God’s words to the nation and prepared them to meet their Maker—literally.
“And on the morning of the third day there was tremendous thunder and lightning and clouds on the mountain—and there was an extraordinarily powerful and prolonged shofar blast—and the entire nation freaked out [not a literal translation] … and the presence of God, transcendent and absolute, descended onto the mountain.”
So at Sinai, God laid out everything He had to say. What He was communicating was the fine print of the original deal with Abraham, the spiritual details of the unique, mission-centered relationship known as the Covenant. Then, when He finished His communication, God instructed Moses to write everything down and present it to the nation for their signature.
“And Moses transcribed all the words of God. Then, in the morning, Moses got up and built a ratification altar at the foot of the mountain and twelve pillars representing each of the twelve tribes. He then sent the first-born of every family to present an offering on the altar. Finally, Moses took the book of the Covenant and read it to the nation, and they responded in unison— ‘Whatever God says, we will do—and afterwards we’ll try to understand as best we can.’ At that point, Moses took a bit of blood from the altar and sprinkled it on the nation, and he said, ‘This is the blood of the Covenant that God has sealed with you regarding all of these words.'”
* In speaking about the first human beings, Adam and Eve, I will be referring to them collectively as Adam, or Man. This is not meant to slight Eve or any other women who have come since; it’s just a simpler way of doing things. Adam, in our context, means the original, prototypical human being. In truth, the nature of the first human beings is a very deep subject that is dealt with at length in the classical texts and is beyond the scope of this book.
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Shimon Apisdorf is an award-winning author whose books have been read by hundreds of thousands of people around the world. He has gained a world-wide reputation for his ability to extract the essence of classical Jewish wisdom and show how it can be relevant to issues facing the mind, heart and soul in today’s world. Shimon grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, and studied at the University of Cincinnati, Telshe Yeshiva of Cleveland and the Aish HaTorah College of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem. He currently resides with his wife, Miriam, and their children in Baltimore. The Apisdorfs enjoy taking long walks, listening to the music of Sam Glaser and going to Orioles games.
Shimon can be reached at [email protected]
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