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   by Jacob Solomon

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Before the Revelation at Mount Sinai and the Ten Commandments…

It was the morning of the third day. There was thunder, lightening, a heavy cloud on the mountain, and the powerful sound of the shofar. The people in the camp trembled greatly… Mount Sinai was covered in smoke, because G-d descended on it in fire. The mountain trembled greatly (19:16,18).

The Ten Commandments were presented in an extremely powerful and dramatic setting. There were heavy clouds, fire, thunder, lightening, and the sound of the shofar, all mixed together. And in response, all the Israelite people "saw, trembled, and stood at a distance" (20:18).

The Israelites heard G-d's voice "from within the fire". The Israelite elders declared that "today we saw that G-d may speak to Man, and he may continue to live" (Deut. 5:23-4). After the verbal delivery of the Ten Commandments, Moses reassured the Israelites that there was no reason to fear: G-d had come in that dramatic setting "in order that you should fear Him and not sin" (20:20).

However, in the much later event at Mount Sinai (alias Mount Horeb), G-d appeared to Elijah in a similar, but different way; as recounted below.

Elijah's spectacular demonstration of G-d's power over Baal on Mount Carmel, his massacre of the priests of Baal, and his placing Israel back into G-d's favor bringing an end to the drought all gave his lonely campaign short-term success. But when Jezebel heard of the slaughter of the priests of her cult, Baal, she vowed to have Elijah put to death on the very next day. Elijah fled to Mount Sinai - referred here as Mount Horeb. Settling down in a cave on Mount Sinai, G-d called to him: "What are you doing here, Elijah?" Elijah replied with: "I have acted zealously for G-d… for the Israelites have abandoned Your covenant, destroyed Your altars, and put Your prophets to the sword. I alone am left, and they seek to kill me as well" (Kings I 19:10; also 19:14). G-d then told him to stand on the mountain, before Him. There Elijah experienced a hurricane, and earthquake, and a fire.

In contrast with the Israelites on Mount Sinai, G-d was in neither of those dramatic phenomena. He did not speak to Elijah through the fire, as He did to the Children of Israel. Nor did He speak to him through the earthquake, nor through the wind. Only afterwards did he actually experience G-d - in the form of the kol demama daka - the "still small voice".

This contrast illustrates the way that a fundamental life-changing message is impressed on a large crowd on one hand, and on an individual on the other hand.

Drama, fire, thunder, and smoke added to the impact and revelation that was shared as part of a communal experience. His Voice may have sounded as coming from the fire. But these things were packaging only, in service to the vital experience of the Ten Commandments. That exciting packaging was designed to create the memories that would enable the Israelites to remember the messages contained within the Ten Commandments.

But individuals are not public meetings; they have to be approached differently. G-d emphasized this to Elijah when He demonstrated that he was neither in the hurricane, nor in the earthquake, nor in the fire. He was in the "still small voice" only. However, the hurricane, the earthquake, and the fire were all necessary. They were the backdrop, without which the still small voice would not have been effective.

The principle behind this contrast is that individuals are not treated like public meetings. Public meetings are addressed in such a manner as the shared communal experience is greater than the sum of individual experiences. But drama is what drama is - packaging. When the individual is approached, he or she is not a public meeting. The setting has to be appropriate, but the speech should be measured and to the point.

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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