UP AND DOWN MT. SINAI Ex 19, 24, 32-34

            The priestly narrator (P) here, in the post exilic period, so neatly combined the sources for this story that Mosheh – and others’ – repeated ascents and descents seem almost unremarkable.  What is remarkable is the content of the Ten Commandments presented in Ex 34, differing, as it does from the familiar content in Ex 20 not included in this story.

PROCEDURE      Ex 19
            1On the third new moon of the exodus of B’nai Yisrael from the land of Egypt, on that very day, they arrived at the wilderness of Sinai. 2Arriving there from R’fidim, they camped opposite the mountain.
            3Mosheh went up to the god and Yahh called out to him from the mountain: “Thus shall you say to Beit Ya’akov, and tell to B’neyYisrael, 4‘You have seen what I have done to Egypt. I bore you on the wings of eagles and brought you to me. 5Now, if you will listen to my voice and keep my brit, you will be particularly mine from among all peoples of my earth. 6You will become my kingdom of kohanim, my holy nation.’ These are the words you will speak to B’neyYisrael”
            7So Mosheh arrived and called together the elders of the people. He laid before them all these words that Yahh had commanded him to convey. 8They responded together: “All that Yahh has spoken we will do.” 
            Mosheh brought back to Yahh the people’s words. 9Yahh said: “Note that I come to you in a thick cloud so that the people may hear when I speak with you. That way they will always trust you.” 
            Mosheh told Yahh what the people had said. 10Yahh told Mosheh: “Go sanctify the people today and tomorrow. Have them launder their clothes. 11Be prepared for the third day. On the third day Yahh will descend onto Mt Sinai before the eyes of the whole people. 12Restrict them all about, telling them not to ascend the mountain or even touch its edge. Anyone who touches the mountain is to be put to death. 13No hand may touch that person: he is to be stoned or shot. The same goes for animals. Neither beast nor man shall live. When the yovel horn blows long they may ascend.”
            14Mosheh descended the mountain to the people. He sanctified the people and had them wash their clothes. 15“Be ready for the third day. Let no one approach a woman.”
            16And then, on the morning of the third day a heavy cloud covered the mountain and there was thunder and lightning, and a very powerful shofar sound. All in the camp trembled. 17Mosheh left the people, left the camp to go meet the God. They stood below the mountain.
            18Mt Sinai was enveloped entirely in smoke because Yahh had descended in fire.  The smoke rose like from a chimney. The whole mountain trembled. 19The shofar sound grew louder and stronger. Mosheh would speak. The god would answer him audibly.
            20Yahh descended onto Mt. Sinai and summoned Mosheh to the mountain top and he climbed there. 21“Go back down, warn the people lest they break orders and see Yahh and many die. 22And also the kohanim who approach Yahh, have them sanctified lest Yahh break out against them.” 23Mosheh replied: “The people can’t ascend Mt. Sinai because you already warned us to make a border around the mountain and set it apart in sanctity.” 24“Then,” said Yahh, “go down and come back up with Aharon. The priests and the people should not be destroyed by ascending to Yahh–he might burst out against them.” 25Mosheh descended to the people and told them.
            20:18The entire people see the thunder and fiery lightning, the shofar sound and the mountain in smoke. They were afraid, they shuddered, they stood at a distance.  19They said to Mosheh: “You speak to us and we’ll listen.  Don’t let god speak with us lest we die.” 20Mosheh reassured them: “Don’t worry. This is a test demonstration. God wants your faces to show fear of him so that you will not sin.” 21Then, with the people maintaining their distance, Mosheh approached the thick darkness where the god was.

             In this section of the story the narrator seems to be treating as superstition the belief that a glimpse of God is fatal.  (Official religion might offer such a belief in order to discourage visionaries who might challenge the status quo.  Laymen might embrace such a belief to make sense of not seeing God.)  In the Burning Bush episode Mosheh fears looking at God. (Ex 3:6.  Isaiah also worries, 6:5) Perhaps a different narrator has Yahh telling Mosheh it’s all right to see the divine backside but not the face, “for no person can see Me and live.”(Ex 33:20)  But, in the same chapter (verse 11) we are told, “Yahh spoke to Mosheh face to face, the way a man speaks to his friend.”  The concluding remarks in Deuteronomy tell us that among the prophets, only with Mosheh did Yahh communicate face to face. (34:10) Also in Deuteronomy, the people fear hearing God as well as seeing. (18:16) But this story describes a social gathering where food and drink are served.  Note the element of surprise that nothing bad happens.

            24:1To Mosheh He said: “Ascend to Yahh, you and Aharon, Nadav and Avihu, and seventy elders of Yisrael. Bow down at a distance. 2Mosheh alone will approach Yahh, not the others. The people will not ascend with him.”
            3Mosheh came and told the people all Yahh’s words and ordinances. The people responded in one voice: “All that Yahh has spoken we will do.” 4Mosheh then wrote down all the words of Yahh. He rose early the next morning, built an altar below the mountain and raised twelve upright stones to represent the twelve tribes of Yisrael. 5He appointed young men to offer burnt offerings: bulls for general sacrifices and well-being sacrifices. 6Half the blood he put into basins and half he threw onto the altar. 7He read the scroll of the brit in the ears of all. 8They responded: “All that Yahh has spoken we will do and hear.”  Then Mosheh took the rest of the blood and threw it over the people, saying: “Behold the blood of the brit that Yahh has cut with you over all these words.”
            9Then they ascended, Mosheh and Aharon, Nadav and Avihu, and seventy elders of Yisrael. 10And they saw the god of Yisrael. Under His feet was like a work of sapphire brick, pure as the very sky. He did not lay hand on the notables of B’nai Yisrael even though they had seen the God. Instead, they ate and drank together.
            12Then Yahh addressed Mosheh: “Ascend to Me at the mountaintop and remain.  There I shall give you the stone tablets and the Torah and the mitzvah which I have written for you to teach the people.”
            13So Mosheh rose, with Y’hoshua his aid, ascended the mountain of God. 14To the elders he said: “Wait here for us, till we return. Aharon and Chur will be with you.  Anyone with something to say, approach them.” 
            15Some say that only Mosheh ascended the cloud-covered mountain. 16The full weight of Yahh rested on Mt. Sinai, covered by the cloud, for six days. Then, on the seventh day, from within the cloud, He called Mosheh. 17In the eyes of the B’nai Yisrael at the foot of the mountain, Yahh’s full weight appeared as a consuming fire at the mountaintop. 18Mosheh entered the cloud and climbed. He was there forty days and forty nights.

            Gold calves, young bulls, really, were featured in the temples built by King Y’rov’am as part of the establishment of the northern kingdom, Israel.  Y’rov’am, following the split in 922 BCE, sought to dissuade his people from pilgrimages to the southern kingdom to worship in the Jerusalem temple built by the recently deceased Sh’lomoh.  Taking counsel with his advisors, who knew nothing of the Second Commandment (Deuteronomy, late 7th century BCE), he decided on the images and presented them to the people with the words: “Behold your gods, Yisrael, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.”  (I Kings 12:25-29) In this part of the Mt Sinai story, the narrator appears to be offering a back-story for the argument that the northern kingdom was destroyed because of this idolatry.   In Deuteronomy, worshipping any but Yahh is the most grievous of sins.   Note, below, the direct quote, including plural form verbs for the word elohim which, when it refers to God, takes singular verbs.
            32:1The way the people saw it, Mosheh was hesitating to come down the mountain. They congregated on Aharon and demanded: “Up!  Make us some gods that will lead us. This Mosheh, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.” 2So Aharon said: “Break up the gold rings from the ears of your women, your sons, and daughters, and bring them to me.” 3And the whole people did indeed break up the rings from their ears and brought them to Aharon. 4He took what they brought, melted it into a mold and fashioned it with a chisel into a young bull. They said: “These are your gods, Yisrael, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.”  5Seeing this, Aharon built an altar before it, and announced: “Festival for Yahh, tomorrow!”
            6The people rose early the next morning and sent up burnt sacrifices and brought offerings for well being.  Then they sat to eat and drink and rose to revel.
            7Yahh spoke to Mosheh: “Go down!  Your people (amcha) are corrupt, the ones you brought up out of Egypt. 8They have soon turned from the way I commanded them. They have made themselves a calf from a mold and they bow down to it and sacrifice to it. And they say, ‘These are your gods, Yisrael, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’ 
            9“I have been watching this bunch and I note that it is a stiff necked people. 10Give Me a moment now and the wrath of My nose will burn them away. And you, I’ll make of you a great nation.”
            11Mosheh appealed to Yahh, his God: “Why, Yahh, burn your anger against Your people? The Ones You brought up from the land of Egypt with such great power and strong arm? 12Why should the Egyptians say that You took them out with evil intent, to kill them in the mountains, to annihilate them form the face of the earth? Return from the heat of Your wrath and reconsider this evil to Your people. 13Remember Your servants Avraham, Yitschak, andYa’akov to whom You swore by Your Self, ‘I will multiply your seed like the stars of the sky, and all this land I give to your seed and they shall possesses it forever.’” 14And Yahh relented of the evil He had spoken of doing to His people.
            15Mosheh then turned and descended the mountain, in his arms the two tablets of testimony, written on both sides, front and back. 16The tablets were works of god, divine writing engraved on the tablets. 17Y’hoshua heard sound of people shouting and he said to Mosheh, “Sounds like war in the camp.” 18Mosheh replied: “That’s not the sound a hero sang, nor sound of weakness sung.  What I hear is the sound of song.”
            19When he got to the camp he saw the young bull and the dancing.  His nose burned in wrath and he threw the tablets from his arms, breaking them at the foot of the mountain. 20He took the bull calf they had made, burned it in fire and ground it fine, scattered it on the surface of water and made the B’nai Yisrael drink it.
            21To Aharon he said: “What did this people do to you that you should have brought on them great sin?” 22Aharon said: “Let not milord’s nose burn so hot. You already knew this people’s miscreant tendencies. 23They asked me to make them some gods to lead them because they didn’t know what had become of you. 24I told them anybody who has gold should break it off and give it to me. I threw it into the fire and out came this bull calf.”
            25Mosheh saw that the people were unrestrained.  Aharon had loosened them to the point that their enemies would see them as undisciplined. 26So Mosheh stood in the camp gate and announced: “Whoever is for Yahh stand with me!” All the b’nei Levi gathered to him. 27“Thus says Yahh, God of Yisrael: ‘Every man of you gird on his sword. Pass back and forth from gate to gate in the camp. Kill every man his brother, his friend, his kin.’” 28And the b’nei Levy did Mosheh’s command. That day there fell from the people some three thousand men. 29Mosheh said: “You are, as of today, appropriated to Yahh, at the cost to each person of his son, his brother.  May this bring you blessing.”
            30The next morning Mosheh said to the people: “You have sinned a great sin. I’ll go up now to Yahh. Perhaps I can atone for your sin.” 31Mosheh returned to Yahh and said: “Ah, please. This people have sinned a great sin. They have made themselves a god of gold. 32Now, would that you forgave their sin. But if not, erase me from your book, the one you have written.” 33And Yahh said to Mosheh: “He who has sinned against me shall I erase from my book. 34Now go, lead the people to where I have told you. See, my angel will go before you. When the day of reckoning comes, I shall reckon them their sin.” 35And Yahh did it with a plague.

            1Yahh spoke to Mosheh: “Go up from here, you and the people you brought up from Egypt, to the land I swore to Avraham, Yitschak, and Ya’akov, ‘I will give it to your seed.’ 2I shall send an angel before you to this land of milk and honey and that’s how I shall drive out the K’na’ani, the Emori, the Chiti, the P’rizi, the Chivi, and the Y’vusi. 3I shall not go up in your midst lest I annihilate you on the way, you being such a stiff necked people. 4When the people heard this harsh word they mourned and no one put on his finery. (5 Yahh said to Mosheh, “Say to B’neyYisrael, ‘You are a stiff necked people. One moment I shall rise in your midst and finish you off. So now take your ornaments off and I’ll let you know what I shall do with you.) 6B’neyYisrael stripped themselves of finery from Mt Chorev on.
            7Mosheh would take the tent and pitch it outside the camp, a distance away.  He called it Ohel Moed – Tent of Appointment. Anyone who sought Yahh could go out of the camp to the Ohel Moed. 8Whenever Mosheh would go out to the Tent, the entire people would get up and stand, every man in front of his own tent. 9They would watch Mosheh till he entered the Tent. Then a pillar of cloud would descend to stand at the tent opening and would speak with Mosheh. 10When the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the Tent opening then each would bow down at his own tent opening. 11Yahh spoke to Mosheh face to face as a man talks to his friend.  He would then return to the camp but his young attendant, Y’hoshua bin Nun would not budge from within the Tent.
            12One day Mosheh said to Yahh: “Look, you say to me, ‘Bring this people up,’ but you have not informed me whom you will send with me. You said, ‘I know you by name and you have found favor in my eyes.’ 13So now, if I have found favor in your eyes, inform me about your path so that I may know you. That way I shall find further favor in your eyes.  After all, this nation is your people (amcha).
            14So He said: “my face will go and secure you.”
            15“If your face doesn’t go, don’t move us up from here! 16And how else should it be known that I have found favor in your eyes, I and your people, other than your going with us. That way we shall be distinguished, I and your people, from all other peoples on the face of the earth.”
            17So Yahh said to Mosheh: “This too I shall do because you have found favor in my eyes and I know you by name.”
            18“Show me your Glory!”
            19“I shall pass all my goodness in front of you. I shall call out the name Yahh before you.  I shall favor whom I shall favor and show mercy to whom I shall show mercy. 20You cannot see my face for no person can see me and live. 21Near me is a place you can stand on a great  rock. 22It will be that when my glory passes by, that I shall put you in a crevice of that rock and shelter you with my palm till I have passed.  23Then I shall turn my palm away and you will see not my face but my backside.”

            34:1Yahh said to Mosheh: “Sculpt yourself two tablets similar to the first ones and I shall write on them the words which were on the first that you broke. 2Prepare yourself for tomorrow morning. Ascend Mt. Sinai and stand there at the peak. 3Let no man ascend with you or even be seen anywhere on the mountain. Don’t even let flocks and herds graze around that mountain.”
            4So Mosheh sculpted two stone tablets like the first.  He rose early in the morning and climbed Mt. Sinai just as Yahh had commanded, taking in his hands the two stone tablets. 
            5Yahh descended in a cloud and stood with him there and called out the name Yahh! 6Then He passed in front of him and called out: “Yahh! Yahh! merciful and gracious God! Patient! Great in love and truth! 7Keeping love for the thousands!  Forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin! But not finding innocence!  Paying the iniquity of ancestors to their children and grandchildren, third and forth generations!” 
            8Mosheh quickly bowed to the ground 9and said: “If I have found favor in Your eyes, my Lord, let my Lord walk amongst us. It is a stiff necked people and you will pardon our iniquities and our sins and make us Your own.”
            10And he said: “I hereby cut the following brit: Before your people (amcha) I shall do wonders never before wrought in all the earth, among all the nations.  And every people among whom you find yourselves will see the action of Yahh. It is awesome, what I am about to do for you. 11Just keep that which I command you today and I will drive from before you the Emori, the K’na’ani, Chiti, the P’rizi, the Chivi, and the Y’vusi.
Your side of the deal:
121.   Beware lest you cut a brit with the residents of the land which you are to enter, lest they  become a snare among you. 13Pull down their altars, break their stone monuments, and cut down their Asherim. 14You must not bow down to another god, for His name is ‘Yahh the Jealous,’ for He is a jealous god. 15Should you cut a covenant with the inhabitants of the land who lust after their gods and make offering, they will invite you and you will eat of their offerings. 16And you will take from their daughters for your sons and those women will lust after their gods and cause your sons to lust after their gods.
172.   You shall not make cast gods for yourselves.
183.   Keep the festival of matsot.  For seven days you shall eat matsot, as I have commanded you, in its fixed time in the month of Aviv, for in Aviv you left Egypt.
194.   All first from the womb are mine: all of your livestock that have male firstborn, whether cattle or sheep; 20the first of an ass you redeem with a sheep, and if not, break its neck; redeem every firstborn of your sons.
5.   Do not appear before me empty handed.
216.   Six days shall you work. On the seventh you cease.  Even during plowing and harvest, you cease.
227.   Make Shavuot a festival, for the first fruits of your wheat harvest.
8.   The festival of gathering, at the turn of the year. 23Three times a year shall all your males appear before the Lord Yahh, God of Yisrael. 24I shall dispossess nations before you and broaden your borders. Still no man shall covet your land when you go up to visit Yahh three times a year.
259.   Do not offer the blood of My sacrifice with leavened bread.  Nothing may remain till morning of your Pesach festival sacrifice. 26The first of the first fruits of your land, bring to the house of Yahh, your god.
10.  Do not cook a kid goat in its mother’s milk.
            27And Yahh said to Mosheh: “Write down these words for by these words I cut a brit with you and Yisrael. 28He was there with Yahh forty days and forty nights, eating no bread and drinking no water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the brit, the Ten Words.

            29And, when Mosheh descended Mt. Sinai bearing the two tablets of testimony, he was unaware that the skin of his face had grown horns from speaking with Him.  30Aharon and all the B’nei Yisrael saw Mosheh with horns from his face, and they feared approaching him. 31Mosheh called to them and Aharon and all the group leaders returned to him so that Mosheh could speak with them. 32Afterwards, all the B’nei Yisrael approached and he commanded them all that Yahh had spoken on Mt. Sinai.  33When he finished speaking he hung a veil over his face. 34Whenever Mosheh came before Yahh to speak with Him he removed the veil till he had left. Then he would go out and speak to B’neyYisrael what he had been commanded. 35When B’neyYisrael would see his face–the skin having grown horns–Mosheh would return the veil over his face till the next time he went to speak with Yahh.
© Rabbi David L. Kline            http://good-to-be-a-jew.blogspot.com/

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