Is This God’s Will?
At the foot of Mount Sinai, the Jewish People, only recently freed from slavery, meet their Creator, face to face. The mountain is engulfed in flames and the earth shakes from the magnitude of the revelation of God’s omnipotence. The people see rockets of fire, loud blasts of the shofar horn and hosts of angels, as they are temporarily elevated to unprecedented levels of prophetic vision.
Yet, it seems inappropriate for all this to happen at some random mountain in the Sinai Desert. Wouldn’t Mt. Moriah, the place where Isaac was bound, where Jacob had the dream of the ladder ascending to Heaven, be a more fitting place?
There’s an imaginative Midrash that says, “Just as we separate a section from the dough as a donation to the priests when we are baking bread, so was a section of Mount Moriah torn off from the spot where Isaac our Father was bound to the altar and placed in the desert to become Mount Sinai. The Holy One, Blessed Be God, said: “Since it was upon this spot that Isaac was bound as an offering, it is fitting for his descendants to receive the Torah upon it.’”
Therefore, homiletically Mt. Sinai is Mt. Moriah at that exquisite time of the acceptance of the Torah. Is there any textual support though to back up this supposition?
Believe it or not, there’s a significant amount of material showing a connection between Mt. Moriah and Mt. Sinai. In fact, the chapters dealing with the Binding of Isaac (Genesis 22) and the acceptance of the Torah (Exodus 24) at Mt. Sinai share 18 commonalities!
The first story is at “the mountain of YHWH.”
The second is at “the mountain of God.”
Both state that they are about divine appearances.
“And God said to Moses, “Come up to YHWH: you and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of Israel’s elders, and bow from a distance.”
Abraham saw the place, from “a distance”
Moses says the same words to the elders that Abraham says to the servant boys: “Sit here … we’ll come back to you.”
Both accounts have servant boys (na’arim).
Both use the term “to bow” (hishtachavot?).
Both have a burnt offering (olot?).
The two accounts share a chain of ten verbs:
1. “and he said,”
2. “and he took …
3. and he set,”
4. “and he got up early,”
5. “and he built an altar,”
6. “and he put out his hand,”
7. “and he/it was,”
8. “and he/they got up,”
9. “and he/they came,”
10. “and he/they saw.”
All these parallels alert us to the fact that some important connection exists here. Perhaps it is telling us that Sinai is the reward for Abraham’s actions. A fulfillment of his prediction: “And Abraham named that place, “The Lord will see”, as it is said to this day: On the mountain, the Lord will be seen.”
The Lord was indeed never more ‘seen’ that at the Sinai experience.
But perhaps the text is teaching us something deeper. Abraham sacrificed everything at the Binding of Isaac. He negated his feelings to follow what he thought was the word of God. The Binding of Isaac represented Abraham’s total negation of self. At Mt. Sinai, the Jews entered into a covenant with God saying, “All that God has said, we will do and we will listen.” We accept to do even without knowing what God will ask (i.e. even before we get to listen to the command). It was also a total negation of self, a complete acceptance of God’s will by the Jewish people. Mt. Moriah and Mt. Sinai share commonalities not expressed elsewhere in scripture because the sacrifice that made Abraham succeed in his test is what made Children of Israel succeed in theirs.
In my old days as an Orthodox firebrand, I would have exhorted us all to walk in the paths of Abraham and the Children of Israel, and follow God and the Torah blindly. That acceptance of the Torah properly means total negation of one’s own will to the will of God as we perceive it in scripture and Jewish law.
Now that I’m a little wiser about both Scripture and Jewish Law, I don’t push this perspective. In fact, when people of any religion are convinced they know what God wants, it’s almost a sure sign they’re off.
I think most people today question Abraham’s negation of self at the Binding of Isaac. And if following the Torah blindly, has led us from “Not cooking a baby goat in its mother’s milk” to not eating ice cream until six hours after a chicken dish, then perhaps we’ve gone too far with blindly listening.
Perhaps acceptance of the Torah nowadays is not one of blind acceptance and negation of self, but rather an embrace of one own’s intelligence and intuitions. Conservative Jewish theology understands prophecy as a process and synthesis between God and man. If that’s the case, while we view the practices and interpretations of earlier generations as Sacred, we are entitled to question whether we consider them will of God in the 21st Century.