Parshat Yitro describes God’s revelation at Mount Sinai. The Israelites stand at the foot of the mountain and witness the thunder, sounds and lightning, and they hear God utter the Ten Commandments.
At times, this covenantal happening is depicted as a joyous union, a wedding in which “Moses led the people out of the camp toward God” (19:17) “as a bride goes to meet her groom”(Mekhilta Bahodesh #3), and the mountain is imagined suspended above them like a wedding canopy. In this view, Sinai is animated by feelings of love.
Alternatively, this foundational moment is presented as foreboding and fearful: “There was thunder, and lightning, and a dense cloud upon the mountain, and a very loud blast of the horn; and all the people who were in the camp trembled” (19:16). In this portrayal, the mountain suspended above Israel is a threat: “If you accept the Torah, excellent, and if not, this will be your burial place” (Talmud Shabbat 88a). This version of Sinai is animated by feelings of fear and dread!
Click here to read more from this week’s Parsha Discussion by Rabbi Alex Israel on Yitro: Love. Few. Awe.
Alex teaches Bible at Pardes and is the Director of the Community Education Program and the Summer Program. Alex was born and raised in London. He holds degrees from London School of Economics, the Institute of Education London and Bar-Ilan University. Alex studied at Yeshivat Har Etzion under Rav Aharon Lichtenstein and Rav Yehudah Amital, and gained Rabbinic ordination from the Israeli Rabbinate. Click here to read more.