Shiur #20: The History of the Resting of the Shekhina(Part X) - The Sanctity of Mount Sinai: The Burning Bush and the Giving of the Torah

  • Rav Yitzchak Levy
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Mikdash
Yeshivat Har Etzion


 

Shiur #20: The History of the Resting of the Shekhina

(Part X)

The Sanctity of Mount Sinai: The Burning Bush and the Giving of the Torah

 

Rav Yitzchak Levi

 

 

I.          THE BURNING BUSH

 

Now Moshe kept the flock of Yitro his father–in-law, the priest of Midyan.  And he led the flock far away into the desert, and came to the mountain of God, to Chorev.  And the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush.  And he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, but the bush was not consumed.  And Moshe said, I will now turn aside, and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt.  And when the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the midst of the bush, and said, "Moshe, Moshe," and he said, "Here I am," And He said, "Do not come near; remove your shoes from your feet, for the place on which you stand is holy ground." Moreover, He said, "I am the God of your father, the God of Avraham, the God of Yitzchak, and the God of Yaakov." And Moshe hid his face; for he was afraid to look upon God.  (Shemot 3:1-6)

 

THE SANCTITY OF PLACE

 

            The burning bush is the first Divine revelation in the Torah that relates to sanctity of place.  Previously, there was no discussion of the issue, neither at the Akeida nor at any of the other revelations.

 

While it is true that God chose Mount Moriya for the Akeida, the place was not defined as holy.  The explanation for this may be that Mount Moriya was chosen for the Akeida in the sense of "the deeds of the fathers are an omen for the children," but not in the sense that it had significance for Yitzchak, Yaakov and his children.  Had the mountain been sanctified already in the days of Avraham, it would have become a permanent place of sanctity, whereas the Torah speaks in the book of Devarim in the future tense about "the place that the Lord your God will choose" and "there you shall seek Him, at His dwelling, and there you shall come" (Devarim 12:5).  Hence, the place was not sanctified so as to leave intact the human seeking and selection of the place that the people of Israel would carry out in the future.

 

It turns out, then, that the phenomenon of the sanctity of place begins at Mount Sinai – at the revelation at the burning bush and later at the giving of the Torah[1] - and it precedes the consecration of Moshe as a prophet and leader of Israel.  This lecture will focus on the issue of sanctity of place.[2]

 

Thus writes the Ramban in his commentary to v. 5:

 

"For the place on which you stand is holy ground"… Because the entire mountain became sanctified when the Shekhina descended upon the top of the mountain, as at the time of the giving of the Torah.  And Moshe was on the mountain, for he had ascended there, as it is stated: "And he came to the mountain of God, to Chorev." And the bush was at the top of the mountain, and it was all holy, so that wearing shoes was forbidden.  And thus they said (Shemot Rabba 3, 13): Wherever the Shekhina reveals itself, wearing shoes is forbidden.  And similarly regarding Yehoshua (5:15), and similarly the priests served in the Temple barefoot.[3]

 

            With respect to the site and nature of the revelation, the burning bush parallels the giving of the Torah at Sinai.  According to the Ramban, the bush was at the top of the mountain, upon which God descended and towards which Moshe ascended to receive the Torah (Shemot 19:20).  Then, too, with the Shekhina's descent upon the top of the mountain, the entire mountain became sanctified and was set off limits, and the people of Israel were warned to stand at a distance and to purify themselves in preparation for the grand event (ibid.  10-12).

 

            In addition, the Ramban compares the command, "remove your shoes from your feet," to the similar command directed at Yehoshua when the captain of the host of the Lord appeared to him in Jericho and to the prohibition of wearing shoes in the Temple.

 

"REMOVE YOUR SHOES FROM YOUR FEET"

 

            The Ramban mentions the prohibition of wearing shoes that follows from the sanctity of place.  As we have learned: "A person must not enter the Temple Mount with his stick or with his shoe" (Berakhot 9:5; and see Gemara, Berakhot, 62b).  What is the meaning of removing shoes in a sanctified place? The baraita in tractate Zevachim (24a) states:

 

For it was taught in the school of Rabbi Yishmael: Since the floor sanctifies and the holy vessels sanctify, just as in the case of holy vessels there must be nothing interposed between him and the holy vessel, so regarding the floor, there must be nothing interposed between him and the floor.

 

            The place where God reveals Himself – the floor of the Temple, like the ground of Mount Sinai – sanctifies one who stands there as if it were a holy vessel; therefore, there must be nothing interposed between the person and the floor - he must not wear shoes.

 

            Rav S. R. Hirsch writes (ad loc.): "Taking off one's shoes expresses giving oneself up entirely to the meaning of a place, to let your personality get its standing and take up its position entirely and directly on it without any intermediary." Taking off one's shoes expresses one's total surrender to the sanctified place and absolute devotion to God, who reveals His presence through the sanctification of the place.[4]

 

THE PARALLEL TO THE REVELATION AT JERICHO

 

            As stated above, the Ramban compares the Divine command to Moshe to remove his shoes to the revelation of the captain of the host of the Lord to Yehoshua in Jericho.  There it says as follows:

 

And it came to pass, when Yehoshua was by Jericho, that he lifted up his eyes and looked, and, behold, a man stood over against him with his sword drawn in his hand.  And Yehoshua went over to him, and said to him, "Are you for us, or for our adversaries?" And he said, "No, but I am captain of the host of the Lord, I am now come." And Yehoshua fell on his face to the earth, and bowed down, and said to him, "What says my lord to his servant?" And the captain of the Lord's host said to Yehoshua, "Remove your shoe from your foot; for the place on which your stand is holy." And Yehoshua did so.  (Yehoshua 5:13-15)

 

            Jericho is the eastern gate of Eretz Yisrael, the point of entry into the land, a border pass between outside of Israel and Eretz Yisrael; contained within it, as it were, is the sanctity of the entire land.  It is also the first place that was conquered in Israel, and it was conquered in a miraculous manner and fell entirely under a ban – the teruma of Eretz Yisrael.[5] The consecration of the land of Jericho through this revelation was actually a revelation of the sanctity of all of Eretz Yisrael.

 

            Besides representing Eretz Yisrael, we find many expressions of the connection between Jericho, on the one hand, and Jerusalem and the Temple, on the other.  The clearest expression of this is the substitution of the fat pasture land of Jericho for the area of the Temple, as is explained in the Sifrei:

 

When Israel divided up the land, they left the fat pasture land of Jericho, five hundred cubits by five hundred cubits.  They said: Whoever builds the Temple in his portion may take the fat pasture land of Jericho.  (Sifrei Bamidbar, 81)

 

            The mishna in Middot finds many connections between Jericho and the Temple service:

 

In Jericho they would hear the noise of the great gate opening.  In Jericho they would hear the sound of the magrefa.  In Jericho they would hear the noise of the wood that Ben Katin made into wheelwork for the wash-basin.  In Jericho they would hear the voice of Gevini, the Temple crier.  In Jericho they would hear the sound of the flutes.  In Jericho they would hear the sound of the cymbals.  In Jericho they would hear the sound of the song.  In Jericho they would hear the sound of the shofar.  And some say: Even the voice of the High Priest when he would utter the [Divine] name on Yom Kippur.  In Jericho they would smell the fragrance of the burning incense.  Rabbi Eliezer ben Diglai said: There were goats in my father's house in Mount Michvar that would sneeze from the fragrance of the burning incense.  (Tamid 3:8)

 

            This connection also had practical significance with respect to the priestly watches:

 

Our Rabbis taught: There were twenty-four [priestly] watches in Eretz Yisrael… twelve of them in Jericho.  When it came time for a watch to go up, half of the watch would go up from Eretz Yisrael to Jerusalem, and half of the watch would go up from Jericho to supply water and food to their brothers in Jerusalem.  (Taanit 27a)

 

            Already, then, at the eastern gate of Eretz Yisrael, at the beginning of the conquest of the land, we find a direct connection to the heart of the land – Jerusalem and the Mikdash.  This is the inner connection between the burning bush, the giving of the Torah at Sinai, and the revelation at Jericho, all of which are connected in their very essence to the Mikdash.

 

II.        THE GIVING OF THE TORAH AT SINAI

 

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 of Sinai… And the Lord said unto Moshe, "Go unto the people, and sanctify them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments.  And be ready against the third day; for the third day the Lord will come down in the sight of all the people upon Mount Sinai.  And you shall set bounds unto the people round about, saying, 'Take heed to yourselves, that you go not up into the mount, or touch the border of it; whosoever touches the mount shall be surely put to death; no hand shall touch him, but he shall surely be stoned, or shot through; whether it be beast or man, it shall not live;' when the ram's horn sounds long, they shall come up to the mount…" And it came to pass on the third day, when it was morning, that there were thunders and lightning and a thick cloud upon the mount, and the voice of a horn exceeding loud; and all the people that were in the camp trembled.  And Moshe brought forth the people out of the camp to meet God; and they stood at the bottom of the mount.  Now Mount Sinai was altogether on smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire; and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mount quaked greatly.  And when the voice of the horn waxed louder and louder, Moshe spoke, and God answered him by a voice.  And the Lord came down upon Mount Sinai, to the top of the mount; and the Lord called Moshe to the top of the mount; and Moshe went up.  And the Lord said unto Moshe, "Go down, charge the people, lest they break through unto the Lord to gaze, and many of them perish.  And let the priests also, who come near to the Lord, sanctify themselves, lest the Lord break forth upon them." And Moshe said unto the Lord, "The people cannot come up to Mount Sinai; for you charged us, saying, 'Set bounds about the mount, and sanctify it.'" And the Lord said unto him, "Go, get you down, and you shall come up, you, and Aaron with you; but let not the priests and the people break through to come up unto the Lord, lest He break forth upon them." (Shemot 19:1, 10-13, 16-24)

 

And unto Moshe He said, "Come up unto the Lord, you, and Aharon, Nadav, and Avihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel; and worship you afar off.  And Moshe alone shall come near unto the Lord; but they shall not come near; neither shall the people go up with him." And Moshe came and told the people all the words of the Lord, and all the ordinances; and all the people answered with one voice, and said, "All the words which the Lord has spoken will we do." And Moshe wrote all the words of the Lord, and rose up early in the morning, and built an altar under the mount, and twelve pillars, according to the twelve tribes of Israel.  And he sent the young men of the children of Israel, who offered burnt offerings, and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen unto the Lord.  And Moshe took half of the blood, and put it in basins; and half of the blood he dashed against the altar.  And he took the book of the covenant, and read in the hearing of the people; and they said, "All that the Lord has spoken will we do and obey." And Moshe took the blood, and sprinkled it on the people, and said, "Behold, the blood of the covenant, which the Lord has made with you in agreement with all these words." Then went up Moshe, and Aharon, Nadav, and Avihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel; and they saw the God of Israel; and there was under His feet the like of a paved work of sapphire stone, and the like of the very heaven for clearness.  And upon the nobles of the children of Israel He laid not His hand; and they beheld God, and did eat and drink.

And the Lord said unto Moshe, "Come up to Me into the mount and be there; and I will give you the tables of stone, and the law and the commandment, which I have written, that you may teach them." And Moshe rose up, and Yehoshua his minister; and Moshe went up into the mount of God.  And unto the elders he said, "Tarry you here for us, until we come back unto you.  Behold, Aharon and Chur are with you; whosoever has a cause, let him come near unto them." And Moshe went up into the mount, and the cloud covered the mount.  And the Glory of the Lord abode upon Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days; and on the seventh day, He called unto Moshe out of the midst of the cloud.  And the appearance of the Glory of the Lord was like devouring fire on the top of the mount in the eyes of the children of Israel.  And Moshe entered into the midst of the cloud and went up into the mount.  And Moshe was in the mount forty days and forty nights.  (ibid. 24)

 

After having been revealed to Moshe alone at the burning bush, the sanctity of Mount Sinai is revealed to all of Israel at the giving of the Torah.  Three days prior to the event, the people are commanded to sanctify themselves and they are enjoined not to ascend the mountain.  Ascending the mountain is forbidden to them a second time after the Shekhina rests on the mountain and Moshe ascends it.  It is clear from Scripture that there is a strong connection between the sanctity of the people and the sanctity of the mountain, and that this is a central theme at that occasion:

 

Go unto the people and sanctify them today and tomorrow… And you shall set bounds unto the people round about, saying, "Take heed to yourselves, that you go not up into the mount, or touch the border of it…"

 

Go down, charge the people, lest they break through unto the Lord to gaze… And let the priests also, who come near to the Lord, sanctify themselves, lest the Lord break forth upon them.

 

            Seforno (commentary to Shemot 19:23) notes the connection that was pointed out above between the giving of the Torah at Sinai and the burning bush: "'And sanctify it' – when you say to them, 'Whether it be beast or man, it shall not live,' like 'it is holy ground.'" I shall discuss the nature of the sanctity of place at Mount Sinai in greater detail below.

 

THE SANCTITY OF MOUNT SINAI AND THE SANCTITY OF THE MIKDASH

 

            The sanctity of Mount Sinai parallels the sanctity of the Mikdash.  The halakhic structure of the Mikdash is already set at Mount Sinai: the people who will serve therein; the altar, the vessels, and the laws governing the bringing of sacrifices; the laws governing the entry of Moshe, the priests, and all of Israel, and the areas that are forbidden to enter.  We find here a revelation of the Shekhina in fire and cloud (together with thunder and lightning); an altar and pillars (see lecture no.  19); and sacrifices, which may serve as a model for the future daily offering, as it is stated: "It is a continual burnt offering, which was ordained in Mount Sinai" (Bamidbar 28:6).

 

            All the functions of the Mikdash – Divine service and resting of the Shekhina, prophecy, and the Sanhedrin – are rooted in Mount Sinai.  In this sense, Mount Sinai served as sort of a Mikdash from the beginning of the Shekhina's revelation at Mount Sinai and until the building of the Mishkan at the beginning of the second year to the exodus from Egypt.  From that point on, all these aspects move to the Mishkan, which continues and extends what happened at Mount Sinai until it finally arrives in Mount Moriya during the days of David and Shlomo.

 

            I shall not spell out in detail all the parallels between Mount Sinai and the Mishkan.[6] I shall merely note that it is at this point that a track of revelation to the entire people in a particular place begins.  It is true that even previously the people of Israel had been witnesses to the great fear, the mighty hand, and the outstretched arm of God in Egypt and at the Red Sea and to the miracles performed in the wilderness.  But this is the first instance of a central place of sanctity that was designated for revelation to all of Israel.  As stated, the Mishkan continued to play this role, through all its stations, until it came to its final stop – Mount Moriya.  The form and nature of the revelation vary along the way, in accordance with the place and the spiritual state of the people, but the very fact that God reveals Himself to the people of Israel in a central place where all are found and all reach – this started at Mount Sinai.

 

            Among the Rishonim, the Ramban is the most prominent proponent of the idea that the Mishkan served as a perpetuation of what took place at Mount Sinai; conversely, he sees Mount Sinai as the beginning of the Mishkan.  In his commentary to the end of Shemot, the Ramban notes the parallels between the description of the resting of God's Shekhina on Mount Sinai and the description of the resting of the Shekhina in the Mishkan at the end of Shemot (40:34-38):

 

"And the Glory of the Lord filled the Mishkan" (Shemot 20:34) – Because its midst was filled with the Glory, for the Glory rests in the midst of the cloud that is in the midst of the Mishkan, as it is stated at Mount Sinai, "to the thick darkness where God was" (20:17)… And the reason is that [Moshe] should not go there without permission, but rather He would call him and he would go into the midst of the cloud, as he had done at Mount Sinai: "On the seventh day He called to Moshe out of the midst of the cloud" (24:16), and it says: "And Moshe went into the midst of the cloud" (ibid. v. 18).[7]

 

In his introduction to the book of Bamidbar, the Ramban compares the setting of bounds in the Mishkan to the setting of bounds at Mount Sinai:

 

…And now He will set the bounds of the Mishkan while it will be in the wilderness in the way that He had set the bounds at Mount Sinai when the Glory was there.  He commanded, "And the stranger who draws near will die" (Bamidbar 1:21), as He said there, "But he shall surely be stoned" (Shemot 19:13).  And He commanded, "But they shall not go in to see when the holy things are covered, lest they die" (Bamidbar 4:20), as He warned there, "Lest they break through unto the Lord to gaze" (Shemot 19:21).  And He commanded, "And you shall keep the charge of the sanctuary, and the charge of the altar" (Bamidbar 18:5), as He said there, "And let the priests also, who come near to the Lord, sanctify themselves… the priests and the people…" (Shemot 19:22, 24).

 

            The Ramban's most fundamental and detailed discussion of the topic is found in his well-known explanation of the commandment to build the Mishkan (Shemot 25:2):

 

And the mystery of the Mishkan is that the Glory that had rested on Mount Sinai should rest upon it in a concealed manner.  As it is stated there: "And the Glory of the Lord rested upon Mount Sinai" (Shemot 24:16), and it is written: "Behold, the Lord our God has shown us His Glory and His greatness" (Devarim 5:21), so, too, it is written regarding the Mishkan: "And the Glory of the Lord filled the Mishkan" (Shemot 40:34)… And the Glory which had appeared to them on Mount Sinai was always with Israel in the Mishkan.  And when Moshe came, the Word that had spoken to him on Mount Sinai came to him.  And as it is stated at the giving of the Torah: "Out of heaven He made you hear His voice, that He might instruct you, and upon earth He showed you His great fire" (Devarim 4:36), so, too, it is written regarding the Mishkan: "Then he heard the voice speaking to him from off the covering that was upon the ark of Testimony, from between the two keruvim: and it spoke to him" (Bamidbar 7:89)… He who carefully examines the verses dealing with the giving of the Torah and understands what we wrote about them will understand the mystery of the Mishkan and the Mikdash

 

            The revelation at Mount Sinai was a one-time revelation to all of Israel, whereas the revelation in the Mishkan was permanent and hidden; nevertheless, the Mishkan was a direct continuation of the revelation at Mount Sinai.

 

THE LEVELS OF SANCTITY ON MOUNT SINAI AND IN THE MIKDASH

 

            Consistent with this approach, Rabbenu Bachya (in his commentary to Shemot 19:17) distinguishes between four different levels of sanctity on Mount Sinai, and similarly in the Mikdash:

 

"And they stood at the bottom of the mount" – below the mountain and outside the boundary from which they had been warned to distance themselves.

Know that the Glory was at the top of the mountain, as it is stated: "And the Lord came down upon Mount Sinai, to the top of the mount." And all of Israel stood at the end of the mountain, as it is stated: "And they stood at the bottom of the mount." And Moshe merited to ascend the mountain and to go into the midst of the cloud, as it is stated: "And Moshe entered into the midst of the cloud, and went up into the mount." And he merited further to draw near to the thickness of the cloud.  This is what is written:  "Lo, I come to you in a thick cloud," and the "thick cloud" is the "the thick darkness where God was"…

According to this, there were four levels, one above the other, and one further in than the other.  They are as follows: the bottom of the mountain, the top of the mountain, the cloud, and the thick cloud.  Similarly, we find in the Mikdash: the gate of the Temple courtyard corresponding to the bottom of the mountain; the Temple courtyard itself corresponding to the mountain itself; the Heikhal further in corresponding to the midst of the cloud; the Holy of Holies further in than the Heikhal corresponding to the thick cloud, which is "the thick darkness where God was."

 

            A similar idea is found in Midrash ha-Gadol on Shemot 24:9:

 

"Then went up Moshe, and Aharon, Nadav, and Avihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel." Moshe in a separate compartment… Aharon in a separate compartment… Nadav and Avihu and seventy of the elders of Israel each in a separate compartment.

 

            In light of this, Rav Ariel suggests (see note 5 above, p.  80) that the various zones of sanctity should be divided as follows: Moshe entered into the compartment of the Holy of Holies, into the thick cloud at the top of the mountain; Aharon entered into the compartment of the Heikhal; Nadav and Avihu, the priests, entered into the compartment of the courtyard; and the elders of Israel stood at the entrance to the Mishkan (and in the Temple, they sat in the Lishkat ha-Gazit).  Each group reached on Mount Sinai the zone of sanctity appropriate to it in the Mishkan.[8]

 

THE TEMPORARY NATURE OF THE SANCTITY OF MOUNT SINAI

 

            Scripture asserts: "When the ram's horn sounds long, they shall come up to the mountain" (Shemot 19:13).  And Rashi explains: "When the ram's horn draws out a long sound that is a sign of the departure of the Shekhina and that the Divine voice is about to cease; as soon as it departs, they shall be permitted to ascend." In light of this, the Meshekh Chokhma (ibid. vv. 12-13) distinguishes between the sanctity of the people, which is everlasting, and the sanctity of the mountain, which is temporary:

 

"And you shall set bounds unto the people round about, saying:" The Divine Glory and prophecy reached the place where Israel was standing opposite the mountain, as it is stated (Devarim 5:4): "The Lord talked with you face to face in the mountain." And as with respect to the Temple courtyard, the Torat Kohanim (beginning of Tazria) states that touching is permitted, but entering is forbidden, because the walls separate between God's Mishkan and outside of it.  So, too, here Israel served as walls that separated between the revelation of the Glory of God and all else.  Therefore, it was forbidden to touch the mountain… and He said that the Glory has a boundary.  And what is its boundary? The people around it.  And this is the meaning of "And you shall set bounds" – with what? "The people" – with "the people round about," that they should be the boundary.  Therefore – "Take heed to yourselves, that you go not up into the mount, or touch the border of it… And the Lord said unto Moshe, "Go down, charge the people, lest they break through unto the Lord to gaze" – this refers to prophetic gazing… that they will try to see things that had been hidden.  "And Moshe said unto the Lord, The people cannot come up" – to such a level of prophecy – "to Mount Sinai; for you charged us, saying, 'Set bounds about the mount, and sanctify it.'" "And the Lord said unto him, Go, get you down, and you shall come up" – do not imagine that the Glory and the revelation will be far from where Israel is.  This is not true, for face to face will I speak to them.  And the revelation will reach the place where the people are standing, and they will be the walls for the place of the Glory, and the mountain will be like the Heikhal, and the area of the people will be like the Temple courtyard.  As they said in Menachot (27a), that the sanctity of the Heikhal is only when a person enters therein through the Temple courtyard.  So, too, the sanctity of the mountain is only when one enters through the area where the people are standing.  Therefore, "Go, get you down, and you shall come up…" – for then the sanctity will apply to you with greater force – "But let not the priests and the people break through."…

And since Israel served as the walls of the Glory and they were God's Mishkan, their sanctity remained forever.  As He says: "And I shall dwell in their midst" (Shemot 28:8).  And as it says: "They are the sanctuary of God" (Yirmiyahu 7:4).  And therefore, "when they were exiled to Babylonia, the Shekhina was with them" (Megilla 29a), like the walls and beams of the Mishkan.  But the sanctity of the mountain was temporary, like all the places where the Mishkan stood.  Therefore, the allowance at the mountain was immediate: "When the ram's horn sounds long, they shall come up to the mount," for from the outset it had only been sanctified temporarily.  But Israel's sanctity is forever; therefore, after some time, He granted them permission: "Return again to your tents" (Devarim 5:27).

This is the meaning of the Yalkut (Yitro 301): "And the people stood from afar" – He spoke with them from the Mikdash, as it is written: "And he saw the place from afar" (Bereishit 22:4).  For [the people of] Israel served as walls for the mountain and their sanctity was everlasting sanctity.  Therefore, the law of the mountain was like the Mikdash.  (Meshekh Chokhma, Shemot 19:12).

 

For there is no sanctity in any created being, only in the Creator, blessed be He.  And this is what they meant when they said that you should not imagine that the mountain is something holy, and that is why God revealed Himself upon it.  This is not true about the people of Israel.  For "when the ram's horn sounds long, they shall come up to the mount," and it is home to beasts and animals.  Only as long as the Shekhina rests upon it is it holy owing to the sanctity of the Creator, blessed be His name.  Therefore, it says (Taanit 21b) that it is not the place which glorifies the person, but the person who glorifies his place, etc.  This is a noble idea.  Therefore, in the Mikdash, whose sanctity is forever, in order that you should not think that there is sanctity in the building itself, all ritually impure people, even those ritually impure because of contact with a corpse, are permitted to touch it from the outside.  As they said in Torat Kohanim, Parashat Tazria (1, 4): "You shall not enter" (Vayikra 12:4) - on the outside, all the ritually impure are permitted to touch it, to show that you only fear He who rests His name inside this house, so that the inside is holy, but not the outside; For on the inside are the tablets, the testimony and the Mishkan of the Glory.  (ibid. v. 13)

 

            The Meshekh Chokhma draws a clear parallel between the Heikhal and the mountain (where the people of Israel themselves served as walls surrounding the revelation of the Divine Glory); on the other hand, he draws a clear distinction between Israel, who constitute God's eternal Mishkan and whose sanctity is everlasting, and the mountain, whose sanctity is temporary, limited to the time that God's Shekhina rests upon it.  Another important principle arises from his words: "For there is no sanctity in any created being, only in the Creator, blessed be He:" Mount Sinai's temporary sanctity is not intrinsic, but it rather depends upon the actual revelation of God upon the mountain.  As soon as the revelation ceases, the mountain's sanctity disappears, and the people are once again permitted to ascend it.

 

When was the verse "When the ram's horn sounds long, they shall come up to the mount" fulfilled? The Rishonim propose several answers to this question.  Here I shall limit myself to the words of the Ibn Ezra in his long commentary (ad loc.):

 

The Glory was continually on the mountain until the Mishkan was erected, as it is written: "And the Glory of the Lord filled the Mishkan" (Shemot 40:34).  Then it spoke with Moshe in the Tent of Meeting.  It was perhaps then that Moshe blew the ram's horn and granted permission to ascend [the mountain] following the departure of the Glory.

 

That is to say, the temporary sanctity of Mount Sinai remained in force until the Mishkan was built, and then it ceased and passed to the Mishkan.  This fits in well with the Ramban's understanding that the Mishkan was the permanent continuation of the one-time revelation at Mount Sinai.

 

Nevertheless, the temporary nature of Mount Sinai's sanctity also reflects the nature of the Mishkan's sanctity, which also did not continue forever.  Rav S. R. Hirsch defined the Mishkan as a "movable Sinai," and we saw above in the words of the Meshekh Chokhma that "the sanctity of the mountain was temporary, like all the places where the Mishkan stood." By its very essence, the Mishkan was a temporary structure, and the principle that became clear at Mount Sinai, that the sanctity of place depends on revelation and that with the cessation of the revelation, the sanctity ceases as well, is also valid with respect to the stations of the Mishkan.  For example, even were we able to point to the precise location of the Mishkan in Shilo, the place would have no sanctity, even though the Mishkan stood there for 369 years!

 

Altogether different is the sanctity of Mount Moriya, which does not depend on time or circumstances, and according to certain Rishonim is eternal: "In the Mikdash and Jerusalem, the initial sanctification was valid forever… because the sanctity of the Mikdash and Jerusalem is because of the Shekhina, and the Shekhina is never cancelled" (Rambam, Hilkhot Bet Ha-bechira 6:16).[9]

 

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In this lecture, I examined the sanctity of Mount Sinai from the time of the burning bush and on.  We saw that its sanctity was temporary, as was the sanctity of the stations of the Mishkan, until it reached Mount Moriya, the sanctity of which will last forever.

 

Owing to the close connection between the burning bush and the revelation at Sinai, I moved to the discussion of the revelation at Mount Sinai and discussed the two in the same lecture.  The next lecture will be devoted to allusions to the Mikdash found in the Song of the Sea.

 

(Translated by David Strauss)



 

 



[1] Thus, for example, Targum Yonatan ben Uziel on v. 5 draws a connection between this revelation and the revelation at Mount Sinai: "And He said, Do not come near; put off your shoes from off your feet, for the place on which you stand is holy ground, and upon it you will in the future receive the Torah to teach it to the people of Israel."

[2]The burning bush and the revelation at Mount Sinai are, of course, very broad topics, each requiring a lecture of its own. 

[3] The Chizkuni (ad loc.): "Wherever you find that the Shekhina comes in advance to speak to the prophets, as here where it came first to the bush, and in the case of Yehoshua (Yehoshua 5:14-15), and in the case of the giving of the Torah (Shemot 19:21-27), there you will find that the place is holy.  But in the other places where God revealed Himself, as we find in the case of many of the prophets, the place is not holy."

[4] The Keli Yakar (ad loc.) explains (following Rabbenu Bachya) the removal of the shoes as "a distancing of the material… refining the intellectual force… and refining the material force… and the term "makom" denotes the level, meaning that the level at which you are standing is such that even the earthly part of you is holy."

[5] See Bamidbar Rabba 14, 1: "Rabbi Yuda Ha-Levi bar Shalom said: He taught Israel that which the Holy One, blessed be He, said: 'You shall offer up a cake of the first of your dough for a gift' (Bamidbar 15:20).  Yehoshua said: Since we conquered it first, let us dedicate all of its spoil to Heaven." And the Ra'avad in his commentary to Tamid (chap. 3): "And just as terumat ha-deshen must be separated, so too a separation must be made of Eretz Yisrael itself, and for this reason, Yehoshua made a separation to be holy." Abravanel on Yehoshua (ad loc.) writes that by defining the place as holy, the captain of the Lord's host alluded to Yehoshua that the city should be set aside as holy to God. 

[6] In the Machzor Ha-Mikdash for Shavuot (pp. 73-88), Rav Ariel devotes a lengthy chapter to the topic, in which he spells out eighteen parallels between Mount Sinai and the Mikdash.  Some are connected to the altar, the holy vessels, and the sacrifices; some are connected to the sanctity of the place; and some to the foundation of the Sanhedrin.  Here I will relate only to the various meanings of the sanctity of place as it was revealed at Mount Sinai.

[7] See also, in brief, his commentary to Vayikra 1:1.

[8] The correspondence is most clear on the basis of the Written Torah.  God speaks with Moshe from the Holy of Holies, as it is stated: "And when Moshe was gone into the Tent of Meeting to speak with him, then he heard the voice speaking to him from off the covering that was upon the ark of Testimony, from between the two keruvim, and it spoke to him" (Bamidbar 7:89).  Aharon, the High Priest, entered into the Holy of Holies only on Yom Kippur, and following special preparation.  According to the Written Torah, his main role was in the Holy, the Heikhal.  The service of the rest of the priests was connected to the altar in the Mishkan's courtyard, the Azara. 

[9] The differences between the sanctity of Mount Sinai and the sanctity of Mount Moriya were discussed at length in lecture no.  17.