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   by Jacob Solomon

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Before the Revelation at Mount Sinai and the Ten Commandments, G-d told Moses to communicate with the Israelites…

You shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (19:6).

The Sforno explains this verse in terms of the universalist function of the Israelites. It is their privilege and duty to arouse all people to 'call on G-d' and to serve Him in unity. The Sforno thus understands the purpose of the Ten Commandments as the force of inspiring both the People of Israel, and through them (priests meaning teachers in the service of G-d) the human race.

This idea could give an additional dimension to the text's description of the events before and during the Revelation at Mount Sinai.

Firstly, the Israelites - all of them -'met G-d' at the foot of Mount Sinai (19:17) - to the cacophony of 'thunder, lightening… and the powerful blast of the Shofar', all in a thick cloud. It was witnessed not just by the elite, but by all the Israelites. So all those who were there could 'pass on the experience' in the capacity of being a 'Kingdom of Priests' - to those who were not there in future generations, and to other civilizations. The sound of the Shofar was one that the Israelites were to indentify with. It spoke to and addressed the Israelites. The sound of thunder was universal. So were the flashes of lightening. All nations relate to natural phenomena. Some individuals are auditory learners, and others are visual learners. Some recall and indeed relive the details of the setting to recall the message. Each person learns, recalls, and experiences differently.

A close look at the Ten Commandments gives the content that is framed in the previous setting; the content of what it means to be a 'kingdom of priests and a holy nation.'

The first three commandments: 'I am the Lord your G-d, You shall have no other gods, and You shall not take my name falsely' - link the Israelites to the Source, to the Creator. That is the Absolute Source of their outreach to humanity.

The fourth commandment: 'Remember the Sabbath day… six days shall you work creatively, and the seventh is a Sabbath to G-d' ordains a balanced lifestyle. At the highest level, the individual is a partner with G-d - completing the finishing touch to the Creation in his/her various activities designed to leave the world a better place. But on the seventh day that creativity ceases. It is reflection, and a return to the Source of all things…

And the last six commandments frame the ways that Israelites are expected to direct their way of life so that they exemplify to other nations the right way to live, not just in theory, but in practice. "Honor parents. Do not murder, commit adultery, steal, act as false witness (= tell lies?), or covert." From capital felonies to inappropriate mindframes…

And the force by which the Israelites were to become a kingdom of priests and a holy nation is recalled in Moses' reminding the Israelites before his death: "Had anything as great as that ever happened? Did ever a whole nation (not just their spiritual leaders) hear the Word of G-d directly… and continue to live?" (Deut. 4:32-33)… As Moses also said at the time: "You shall observe and carry out the laws of the Torah… and the nations will say "this can only be wise and intelligent nation… what other nation has G-d with them… and wise and just laws…" (Deut. 4:5-8).

For those looking for more comprehensive material, questions and answers on the Parasha may be found at and on the material on the Haftara at .

Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.

Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site:

Also by Jacob Solomon:
From the Prophets on the Haftara

Test Yourself - Questions and Answers


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