Moshe Kempinski

Words are powerful things. The world was created with words. Relationships are built up with words. Our children discover themselves through words, theirs and ours. Words thrown about carelessly can foster hatred and can lead to the destruction of the temple, both spiritual and physical. Yet on the other hand words can create songs and words become the vessels of prayer.

The power of words has not lessened in our generation. Yet our appreciation of them has become cheapened and deadened. Words in the hand of many have become vacuous tools to achieve personal agendas. They proclaim change but ensure the continuances of control.They are used to promote hope but inevitably produce cynicism and hopelessness. Yet the reality is that words have not lost their intrinsic power. It is the quality of the speaker that determines the power of the words. There are words and statements that pierce through the clouds of confusion and conformity. Such are the words and statements that were spoken over three thousand years ago on Mount Sinai that continue to fashion and form the destiny of mankind

The experience of the Revelation at Mount Sinai has been accepted by many of the world religions and has not been rejected by any. This was not the first and not the last time that G-d would reveal His will and His desires to mankind and yet it stands out as the watershed event.

One would think that such a dramatic event could or perhaps should have been more publicly displayed .Yet a barren and desolate wilderness was chosen as the venue.” In the third month after the children of Israel were gone forth out of the land of Egypt, the same day came they into the wilderness( THE MIDBAR) of Sinai.2 And when they were departed from Rephidim, and were come to the wilderness ( THE MIDBAR) of Sinai, they encamped in the wilderness( THE MIDBAR) ; and there Israel encamped before the mount..(Exodus 19:1-2)

The Midrash (Numbers Rabbah 1:7) declares that the choice of the wilderness as the place of G-d’s revelation was critical. There are two major components of the wilderness experience. The first is that is an area that is ownerless. The second is that the experience of the wilderness is one of humility.

The revelation of Torah can only be accessed in a “place’ wherein no one has exclusive monopoly or control. The Mechilta D’Rashbi declares the Torah given to the people of Israel In the ownerless wilderness since ‘had if been given in the Land of Israel, the residents of the Land of Israel would say, “It is ours”; and if it were given in some other place, the residents of that place would say, “It is ours.” Therefore it was given in the wilderness, so that anyone who wishes to acquire it may acquire it.

The revelation at mount Sinai was intended for the whole world. While it is true that for many, many generations it will be one people who will carry that revelation forward. Yet eventually it will be heard and understood by all of mankind “for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of Hashem, as the waters cover the sea” ( Isaiah 11:9)

Yet just as importantly Torah can only ,and will only, be accessed by one who makes oneself into a wilderness. One needs to be aware that one is living an existence that is dry and parched .Only then does one truly yearn to be quenched and taught.

The choice of Mount Sinai was also critical. The Midrash (Midrash Psalms 68:17) states that G-d chose Mt. Sinai for the Giving of the Torah because it was “the smallest of all mountains,” to highlight the importance of humility. The Sfat Emet then asks why G-d did not give the Torah on a plain or in a valley. He answers that G-d did not want the vessels of His revelation to be so completely self effacing.
We need to be humble vessels and yet we cannot think of ourselves as totally unworthy.

All this explains the impact on the individual level. We still need to explore why this event was so impactful on all of mankind’s common spiritual experience and psyche. Many faiths began with the inspired vision of one man, a visionary, a prophet. It was the character and passion of that individual that then inspired the passion and vision of many.

Yet at Mount Sinai something else occurred. G-d did not just appear to Moshe in a private vision He appeared before a people which then consisted of over two million people

The Kuzari explains that the very public nature of this event was an integral and important feature of the revelation. Moshe in his final address to his people reiterates its importance several times “You have been shown in order to know that God, He is the Supreme Being. There is none besides Him. From heaven he let you hear His voice in order to teach you, and on earth He showed you His great fire, and you heard His words amid the fire.”(Deut. 4:32-36)

And then again ” Hashem your God sealed a covenant with us at Horev [Mount Sinai]. Not only with our forefathers did God seal this covenant, but with us—we who are here, all of us alive today. Face to face did God speak with you on the mountain from amid the fire?’(Deut. 5:1-4)

A gathering at the foot of a non impressive mountain in the midst of a stark and empty wilderness changed the very fabric of mankind’s spiritual psyche. As Hashem declares “Has there ever been anything like this great thing or has anything like it been heard? Have a people ever heard the voice of God speaking from the midst of the fires as you have heard and survived?’ (Deut. 4:32-33). Its impact was felt throughout the world and as a result changed it.

After a rancorous election campaign wherein many declarations were made and many promises were promised, one gets the sense that they will all be forgotten. Words continue lose their meaning and visions simply become slogans.

Yet the declarations and the revelation that occurred on Mount Sinai remain the still small voice that has directed the flow of mankind’s history and has ultimately brought His people back into their land and the world closer to the moment wherein “for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of Hashem, as the waters cover the sea” ( Isaiah 11:9)

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