As a Jew I believe that there was a divine revelation at Sinai thirty five hundred years ago. This revelation, I believe, took place in front of thousands of people. But here’s the problem the believer confronts: if God revels Himself to humankind, why has it only happened once in the course of history?
The answer may be found in the following a cryptic verse in Leviticus (9:6): Moses said, "This is the thing the Lord has commanded; do it, and the glory of the Lord will appear to you." Unfortunately, however, the “thing” one must do in order for the glory of God to appear to us is not stated clearly.
An analysis of the verses seems to indicate that the “thing” refers to the sacrifices. In other words, through sacrificing animals one beholds the glory of the Lord. Notwithstanding the biblical reference to the physical slaughtering of an animal and burning it on the Temple alter; sacrifices also have tremendous symbolic meaning.
Animals act on instinct and therefore do not posses free will. Furthermore animals lack the ability to speak. Humans also have a higher form of intelligence than animals.
Simultaneously, however there are aspects in which humans and animals are very similar. We all have animalistic tendencies—the desire to act on instinct alone without thinking it through or making a balanced choice. The ability to make a rational choice in the areas of ethics and morality is uniquely human. It is in this sense that the Torah maintains that humans were created in the image of the Divine.
Sacrifices symbolize the human ability to transcend that animalistic self, to act in a manner that is uniquely human and reaching a high level of self-mastery. All this results in a revelation of the glory of the Divine (see Samson Raphael Hirsch).
Tradition relates that, thirty-five hundred years ago, the ancient Israelites in the desert spent seven weeks preparing for the revelation at Sinai. This preparation included a thorough self inventory of themselves and their actions so that they were able to transcend their animal instincts and reach self-mastery. Upon collectively completing this intensive seven-week course of self-discipline and overcoming those aspects that inhibit actualizing full human potential, the glory of God reveled itself to the entire community as one.
The Torah says that the Israelites encamped across from the mountain of Sinai (Exodus 19). Tradition has it that during this period the entire community encamped like one man with one heart (Mechilta, see Rashi). This indicates a collective transcendence of ego and base instincts. They were now able to collectively witness the revelation of the Divine glory. This might well be what occurred at Mount Sinai thousands of years ago.
The fact that this type of collective Divine revelation has only occurred once in history has to do with our inability to once again collectively transcend our animalistic selves. But it tells us little about the nature of Divine revelation to humankind.
- Receive Ynetnews updates
directly to your desktop