Sinai’s Many Miracles and their Purpose
Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim
God’s revelation of Himself and His Bible to 2.5 million Jews at Mount Sinai was the world’s greatest event. This event renders Judaism the only religion based on mass witnesses, and thereby, the only proven religion.
This event contained a few unique elements: God created a voice emanating from fire, He gave 2 tablets of sapphire bearing miraculous text of the 10 Commandments, and He caused lightning, thunder, earthquakes and the sound of a shofar. Can we understand why God orchestrated Revelation in this precise form?
1. Why must revelation include fire? This question is strengthened as 8 times in Deuteronomy Moses reminds Israel that “God’s voice emanated from inside the fire.”
2. Why are tablets needed? Why can’t those 10 commands be written in Torah like all other 603 commands, and do away with the tablets? The need for these tablets is further seen, as after Moses breaks the tablets, God instructs him to hew a replacement set.
Exodus 32:15,16 reads as follows:
And Moses turned and descended the mountain and the two Tablets of Testimony were in his hand: tablets written on both sides, from this side and that side they were written. The tablets were God’s work, and the writing was God’s writing, embedded (charuss) on the tablets.
3. What is the plain meaning of the tablets’ script written “from both sides”? What purpose does this serve? Moses broke the tablets, as Rabbi Israel Chait said, lest the Jews worship them as they worshipped the Gold Calf. The tablets were significantly superior to other stones. How so?
4. What is meant by “God’s tablets” and “God’s writing”? “Charuss” (Ibid. 32:16) can be understood as Maimonides states, naturally formed letters, not subsequent engraving upon the tablets:
“The tablets were God’s work, and the writing was God’s writing" (Exod. xxxii. 1:6), that is to say, they were the product of nature, not of art, for all natural things are called “the work of the Lord.” The writing may also have been produced by His direct will, not by means of an instrument (Guide, book I, chap. lxvi).
Ibn Ezra offers no conclusive translation as he says Torah contains no other instance of “charuss.” Therefore, charuss need not be translated as carved or incised, but merely as somehow “present.” What is Maimonides’ message that the writing was “natural”?
5. Earlier (Exod. 31:18) Torah says, “When He finished speaking with him on Mount Sinai, He gave Moses the two tablets of the pact, stone tablets inscribed with the finger of God.” Why does God divide the tablets’ description into 2 Torah sections?
Appreciating the details and hints about Sinai’s astonishing miracles, God’s precise Torah formulations direct us to the answers.
Fire: The Source of Torah is not Biological
In front of 2.5 million Jews, God created a voice to emanate from the fiery mountain. Maimonides says the Jews heard no distinct words, only the “sound” of words, following the verse, “The Lord spoke to you out of the fire; you heard the sound of words but perceived no form—nothing but a voice” (Deut. 4:12).
Life exists in all substances and regions, in ice, under sand, and in water. But all biological life perishes in fire. A voice emanating from fire teaches that this intelligence is not earthbound. But as Maimonides says the Jews heard no distinct words, only the “sound” of words, validation was yet required that Torah’s content was of a divine source. The voice emanating from fire taught that God is not physical. But how was God’s communication verified?
Torah’s divine source is validated through miraculously formed commands. “From both sides” does not mean “etched” writing, for the Jews could have believed that it was not God, but Moses who fabricated that writing, thereby stripping the tablets of their divine nature. And proof that this was possible was that Moses hewed a second set of stones (Exod. 34:4). Certainly he could have etched letters on their surfaces. Rather, “From both sides” means this: as sapphire is translucent, the internal sapphire grain is viewable from both sides, all angles. God selected a translucent object for this purpose. As these 2 bricks of sapphire formed during creation (Avos 5:6), sentences also formed naturally inside the sapphire. This is a feat impossible for Moses to have fabricated; there is no manner in which Moses could have written inside the stones. Only the one Who formed sapphire, also authored Torah text within the sapphire. These stone tablets must have been an amazing sight. It is akin to cutting a tree open to find the rings inside are composed of Torah text. The creator of trees is Torah’s author.
This means that the sapphire—creation—is subordinated to Torah. That is, nature is harnessed to share Torah…the physical world is subservient to Torah. The message at Sinai was that Earth was designed for a goal: for man to find God through studying Torah and nature. This message of nature facilitating the greater goal of sharing Torah is also demonstrated in the voice God created emanating from fire: God harnessed fire and sound, and enabled Torah to emanate.
The Rabbis teach, “God viewed Torah and created Earth.” Meaning, Torah is Earth’s blueprint; Torah is prior and superior to Earth. Rashi on Avos 2:8 says that if the Jews don’t follow Torah, God will reverse creation back to voidness.
Additionally, the verse says they were “tablets of God.” This means that each individual tablet was naturally formed. Seeing a complete tablet with no human markings complements the proof that the writing was not created by Moses, as the tablets were in their complete natural form.
All Creations are His
Shofar blasts cannot be produced naturally, but only by intelligent life. At first, Torah records that the shofar accompanied the thunder and lightning (Exod. 19:16). This demonstrated that the natural thunder and lightning was not separate from an intelligence (shofar). Torah then isolates the shofar, this time adding that it grew louder and louder (Ibid. 19:19) to stress that this was not a human production. When man blows a shofar, his breath weakens until he must stop and inhale once again. Thus, this shofar blare conveyed the presence of a divine intelligence.
God also “descended” on Mt. Sinai (Ibid. 19:20), and Deuteronomy 4:36 says that God spoke from the heavens to demonstrate His control is not limited to Earth alone. And the mountain shaking (Ibid. 19:18) displays God’s control over Earth as a whole. All in heaven and Earth are shown to be guided by God’s will.
2 Accounts of the Tablets
“When He finished speaking with him on Mount Sinai, He gave Moses the two tablets of the pact, stone tablets…”
Here, the operative word is “finished.” Yes, God finished speaking to Moses, but He did not wish this lesson to be finished. This explains why only here God mentioned the tablets “stone” nature. God selected stone as a means to encapsulate His commands in an eternal substance. His delivery to Moses was finished, but not His eternal lessons for man.
But the second account of the tablets does not mention stone at all. Rather, it highlights the tablets’ miraculous nature. Why? As Moses was now descending Mt. Sinai to the idolatrous Jews, God highlights miracles, in contrast to the imagined deity of the Gold Calf. The tablets’ miraculous nature was now relevant to contrast the inanimate Gold Calf and teaches a lesson about what to deify: God alone.
Sinai’s lesson was now complete: Fire taught that God is not physical, not biological, not of this world, and that He is the source of Torah. The miraculous stones and their writing taught what are His commands, and that they were not Moses own inscriptions, but were miraculous writing which only God could have created inside the translucent stones for all to see. And lightning, thunder and shofar showed God’s complete control of the world.
A theme emerges: fire with intelligence, stones with intelligence (writing), and heavenly and earthly phenomena with intelligence (shofar). The lesson is that the physical world is subservient to God, whose will is that man pursue Torah over all else. When giving the Torah, God compromised the nature of fire, earth (sapphire tablets) and the heavens (thunder and lightning) to share His Torah. The Jews learned that all that is, exists only for man to study God through Torah.
God proved His supernatural existence amidst flames, Torah’s commands were validated as divine, and the tablets “testified” as such, earning their title “Tablets of Testimony.” And God demonstrated His dominion over heaven and Earth. Heaven and Earth were put in service of God imbuing mankind of Torah’s vitality.
This past Shavuos celebrated 3333 years since God gifted all mankind a system to direct our lives towards the most happiness and fulfillment, in pursuit of God via His wisdom shared in His Torah. God orchestrated Revelation on Mt. Sinai to serve as everlasting validation of His metaphysical existence, His Bible authorship, and His control over creation. Harnessing creation to display Torah through tablets and God’s communication through fire, teaches man that Earth is subservient to Torah. Our earthly lives were created for the purpose of Torah study.