These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

Reflections from the foot of Mount Sinai:

Posted on June 5, 2014 by Eva Neuhaus

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evaneuIn preparing the people for revelation (Exodus 19), God tells Moshe that God will appear to the people at Sinai, then describes the necessary stipulations: “Go to the people and sanctify them today and tomorrow. Let them wash their clothes.” Then another mention of God’s coming to Mt. Sinai, followed by more constraints: “On the third day God will come down, in the sight of all the people, on Mt. Sinai. You shall set bounds for the people round about, saying, “Beware of going up the mountain or touching the border of it. Whoever touches the mountain shall be put to death.” What follows is the most intimate encounter with God that the people have in the whole Torah, and what is God doing? Giving a set of rules–the Ten Commandments.

We can glean from this that intimacy is predicated on boundaries. In order for there to be intimacy in a relationship, the rules must be clear. The more intimacy is present, the more rules there need to be. I think that ultimately our fear of coming close to God stems from knowing on some level that God will require things from us. The same is true in human relationships. Entering into relationship with any kind of depth requires that we open ourselves to change and the possibility of giving up what we think is real.

Leonard Koff quotes Emmanuel Levinas: “To hear a voice speaking to you is ipso facto to accept obligation towards the one speaking.” Obligation precedes the substance of what is said. As Avivah Zornberg puts it, “…sensitivity to the voice, to the ‘expression’ of the Other, is the essential work of Sinai.” May we be blessed to further the work of revelation by accepting our obligations to the Holy One and to each other with grace.

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