It’s Covenantal

parashas Yisro 5782

“Now mount Sinai was altogether on smoke, because the L-RD descended upon it in fire; and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mount quaked greatly.” – Exodus 19:18, JPS 1917 Tanach

“He bowed the heavens also, and came down; and thick darkness was under His feet.” – Psalm 18:10

The L-RD descended upon Mount Sinai, in the midst of fire and smoke. Later, the Torah records the phenomenon that surrounded His awesome presence, inclusive of thunder, lightning, and the sound of ram’s horns (shofars). How was the L-RD, who sits on His throne in Seventh Heaven, as a transcendent G-d, able to descend upon Mt. Sinai, demonstrating His immanence? “He bowed the heavens,” stretching the heavens towards earth, so that He could simultaneously continue to reside in Heaven while appearing on Mt. Sinai. This may be understood as figurative language, inasmuch that the human mind can not comprehend this magnanimous feat.

And, yet, the language of “bowing down the heavens,” may very well in and of itself, describe something that took place beyond our understanding. There are of course examples of visions, amongst the prophets, who saw G-d in Heaven; yet, this was G-d’s actual presence arriving upon Mt. Sinai. The Revelation at Sinai is the pivotal event in the lives of the Children of Israel, who as former slaves were brought into an official covenant relationship with G-d, when the commandments were given at Sinai.

Thus, we became His people, and He became our G-d, inasmuch that this covenant stands today within the framework of a continuous relationship with the L-RD; this covenant is extant today for Israel, as well as all, who like Yisro sought to join with Israel. “And Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, took a burnt-offering and sacrifices for G-d; and Aaron came, and all the elders of Israel, to eat bread with Moses’ father-in-law before G-d” (Exodus 18:12, JPS). Thus, foreshadowing, entrance into the covenant through faith (Exodus 18:11).

Inner Spark

“All the children of Israel had light in their dwellings.”

– Exodus 10:23, JPS 1917 Tanach

Three days of darkness fell upon Egypt, as the ninth plague was enacted. Yet, there was light in the dwellings of the Children of Israel, who lived apart from the Egyptians in the land of Goshen. This is in accord with the declaration made several times, in regard to the plagues, that the L-RD would differentiate between the Egyptians and Israel. Perhaps, this is the most striking example, whereof somehow B’nei Yisrael had light in Goshen, whereas the rest of Egypt experienced utter darkness for three days. How can this be explained?

The Targum infers that the light served the purpose of enabling the righteous to be occupied with good deeds within their dwellings (Targum Yonatan, Exodus 10:23, sefaria.org). Or HaChayim alludes to the origin of this light as having to do with the righteousness of the Children of Israel. By this allusion, in all likelihood, he was referring to the idea of the pintele yid – the inner spark.

Despite a person’s best efforts, we often fail to even live up to our own standards of righteousness, let alone G-d’s standard; yet, there is flame within that may always call us to return to Him. This is the pintele yid, the inner essence, wherein the flickering flame of divinity, yearns to be kindled by acts of righteousness (mitzvoth).

“For the commandment is a lamp, and the teaching is light.”

– Proverbs 6:23, JPS 1917 Tanach

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