Tuesday, May 18, 2010

A Tale of Two Torah Revelations at Sinai

The basic revelation at Sinai story goes something like this.

On six Sivan, God lifted Sinai over our heads, and forced us to accept the Oral Torah. Then he spoke the first two commandments, but his voice was too darn scary, so Moshe had to announce the other eight. Following this, Moshe went up on to Sinai for 40 days, where we was taught the whole Torah, from beginning to end, up to and including all the points every seasoned student will ever make. 

This is how the story is taught in just about every OJ school, and if you're unfortunate, your shul Rabbi will say it this way in one of his holiday sermons, as well. Natually, I have a complaint, and its the same complaint as always: If you study the source material, you'll find that nearly every single one of these points is disputed by someone, and that this official Torah True version of the story, is really an amalgamation of what good old S. famously calls the "lucky midrashim", that is the midrashim which, for reasons not fully understood, are famous and popular.

As an illustration, here's what the revelation at Sinai story looks like if you include the unlucky midrashim.

On six Sivan, or maybe seven Sivan - we're not completely sure, and a debate on this subject is recorded in bt Yoma - God spoke to us from the mountain and from the heavens, seemingly at the same time. Though one midrash explains this by saying God lifted the mountain, another achieves the same result by saying God brought the heavens down to the mountain top.(1) In either case, the point is that heaven and earth intersected when the Torah was given. Afterwards God spoke - some say he announced all ten, others say he announced two, or none - and took Moshe into heaven, where he was taught something. What exactly that 40 day teaching included is a matter of dispute. Some say, Moshe was taught every word of the oral law (2) (a fair amount of which was subsequently forgotten when the people were mourning for Moshe); others say he was taught nothing but basic deductive principles(3), while a third approach says he was taught many different arguments -49 in favor, and 48 against -  with God remaining strictly neutral about the results. (4)

(1) The earliest midrashic account of the mountain being lifted contains no mention fo the TSBP threat. The threat which first appears in a later midrash, seems to be an attempt to explain why the mountain was lifted, when God could have instead come down to the mountain top.

Megillah 19b milamed she hayrohu h'kbh l'moshe dikdukei torah v'dikdukai sofrim u'mah she hasofrim atidin lchadesh.  

Shmos Raba 41:6
 וכי כל התורה למד משה?!
כתיב בתורה (איוב יא): ארוכה מארץ מדה ורחבה מני ים, ולארבעים יום למדה משה?!
אלא כללים למדהו הקב"ה למשה.
הוי, ככלותו לדבר אתו.
Tana Dvei Eliyahu 2
אלא כשנתן הקב״ה חורה
לישראל. לא נתנה להן אלא כחיטים להוציא מהן סולת.
וכסשתן להוציא
ממנו בגד.
p Sanhedrin 64b

אמר רבי ינאי אלו נתנה התורה חתוכה, לא הייתה לרגל עמידה. מה הטעם? - 'וידבר ה' אל משה' אמר לפניו: רבונו של עולם הודיעני היאך היא ההלכה. אמר לו: 'אחרי רבים להטות' רבו המזכין - זכו. רבו המחיבין - חייבו. כדי שהתורה תהא נדרשת מ"ט פנים טמא ומ"ט פנים טהור, מנין ודגלו.

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