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Mount Sinai, the encounter between God and the Jews

Mount Sinai, the encounter between God and the Jews

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Published by pouch12
The encounter between God and the Jews at Mount Sinai was a totally unique event in all of human history.
by Rabbi Ken Spiro
The encounter between God and the Jews at Mount Sinai was a totally unique event in all of human history.
by Rabbi Ken Spiro

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Published by: pouch12 on Apr 09, 2013
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The encounter between God and the Jews at Mount Sinai was a totally unique event in all of human history.
by Rabbi Ken Spiro
Passover is often described as the holiday of freedom. And in liberaldemocracies, freedom is often misunderstood as the ability to do whateveryou like with no oppressive authority telling you what to do. But that is nothow the Bible and Judaism define freedom.The Jewish idea of freedom is best summarized by the famous expression: “Praise the servants of God who are not servants of Pharaoh.” 
That is,freedom is seen as a means to an end, not an end in and of itself; truefreedom means to be free of outside influences and pressures so that wecan be free to pursue ultimate meaning – relationship with God.
In thespecific context of the Exodus story, it means being free from an oppressiveauthority in order to commit to a chosen responsibility at Mount Sinai.
Talmud, Tractate
Gevurot HaShem
, Chapter 51.
Which brings us to the question: What happened at Mount Sinai?To answer quite simply, the Jewish people – every man, woman and child –had an encounter with God.It was a totally unique event in all of humanhistory. The Bible itself states
that this neverhappened any place else. You can check all historybooks, and you’ll never find a similar story of Godspeaking to an
entire people.
All other claims about revelation in human historyare based on the experience of one individual or atbest a small group of initiates. For example, Islamis founded on the teachings of Mohammed whosaid that an angel spoke to him in a cave and revealed the teachingscontained in the Koran to him.The notion of an entire people having an encounter with God Himself isunique to Judaism.And it’s the one claim that cannot be faked. So for example, I can claimthat I had a vision last night and God spoke to me, and if I’m charismaticenough and you are gullible enough, you might believe that I am a prophet.But I can’t convince you that you saw something that
know you didn’tsee. Maimonides summed it up perfectly when he wrote:
The Jewish people did not believe in Moses our teacher because of the miracles he performed. If one believes in something because of miracles, he may suspect that they were performed through sleight of hand or sorcery… We believe in Moses because of what happened at Mount Sinai. Our own eyes saw, not a stranger’s, our own earsheard, and not another’s… The revelation at Sinai is the only real  proof that Moses’ prophecy was true and above suspicion…
Deuteronomy 4:33.
Mishneh Torah
Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah
8:1; also see his
Moreh Nevuchim (Guide to the Perplexed)
2:33. And Judah HaLevi,
The Kuzari
1:6, 1:81, 1:87.
Jews say that they have kept the Torah for thousands of years, not becauseof miracles or any other supernatural phenomena of Jewish history, butbecause they
stood at Mount Sinai and heard God speak, and forgeneration after generation that very fact was passed down. And the storyof the survival of the Jews as a people is, to a large extent, the story of thechain of transmission of Torah from one generation to the next.
A Nation is Born
At Mount Sinai, the descendants of Jacob and his 12 sons, who had escapedfrom slavery in Egypt, who had been known until then as Hebrews and/orIsraelites, become the Nation of Israel. This is another unique event whichsays a lot about the Jewish people.What’s so unique about it? Well, consider how the French became “theFrench.” Did they all wake up one morning to collectively decide they likedwhite wine and blue cheese, and they were going to speak French? No. Itwas a long process. As with every other nation, this process involved apeople living in a specific geographic area for an extended period of timeand evolving a common language and a common culture born of a sharedhistorical experience. Eventually, this people developed a political entity andgovernment (with a king at its head) and they defined their boundaries,flew a flag, minted coins and called the whole thing France.For Jews, the process of becoming a nation started outside their nationalhomeland – in fact, while they were in bondage and under the most adverseconditions designed to erase any cultural or historical identity. Jews did notbecome a nation by pledging allegiance to the State of Israel. A scragglyband of escaped slaves became a nation standing at the foot of Mount Sinaiand saying to God, “We will do and we will listen” – that is, pledging to fulfillthe commandments of the Torah and with time to understand the missionthat came with it.Just as Abraham many generations earlier made the choice andcommitment to live, and if necessary to die, for the reality of the one God,so too, these descendants of Abraham made the same commitment. And

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