20.4. Comparing the Two Descriptions of the Giving of the Torah / the Concluding of the Covenant
Thus, the Torah gives two descriptions of the concluding of the Covenant between God and the Jewish people, which have the following characteristics in common:
- There is a preliminary discussion in which the people promise to follow the Covenant (19:5-8, 24:3)
- The following day (or three days later), the concluding of the Covenant takes place (19:16, 24:4)
- After the concluding of the Covenant, Moses ascends the Mountain (20:18, 24:15).
But there are also significant differences between the two descriptions:
(weekly portion Yitro)
(weekly portion Mishaptim)
|God Himself speaks, Direct Revelation (20:1)||Moses speaks, reading to the people from the Book of the Covenant (24:4-7).|
|Thunder and lightning, the mountain trembled violently, the sound of the shofar is heard (19:16).||There are no special natural phenomena.|
|The people experience emotional agitation and the terror of being about to die. They are afraid, and they shrink back (20:15-16).||The people react responsibly and calmly (24:7).|
|Universal commandments that apply to all of humanity (Decalogue, 20:1-14).||Specific commandments (“When you acquire a Hebrew slave,” etc., 24:1-23:19).|
|The Jewish people are charged with the universal, human task of being a kingdom of priests and a holy people, i.e., conduits of the Divine light for humanity (19:5-6).||The Jewish people are assigned the specific, particularly national task of conquering the Land (23:20-33).|
|Described in the same portion that tells of Jethro, the sage of the nations of the world, it is applicable to all peoples (18:1-27).||Described in the context of Moses’ dialogue with the people, it refers only to Jews (24:1-11).|
|Moses is the only leader. He cordons off the Mountain, which no one ascends but him, not even the priests. Aaron partially ascends, but does not participate in Revelation (19:21-24).||There are many leaders: Moses, Aaron and his sons, Hur, Joshua. Aaron, his sons the priests, and the elders ascend and “behold God”; that is, they participate in Revelation.|
|The people act as a monolithic unit, with no individual specificity or internal structure.||There is an internal structure within the people, as expressed by seventy elders and twelve pillars (24:1, 4).|
|Separation from natural life: “Be ready for the third day: do not go near a woman” (19:10-15).||Participation in natural life: “They ate and drank” (24:9-11).|
|The conclusion speaks of the principles of monotheism: “You shall not make any gods of silver, nor shall you make for yourselves any gods of gold.” etc. (20:19-23).||The conclusion speaks of the period of waiting for Moses to return from the mountain, and of the details of the transmission of the Tradition to the Jewish people: “I will give you the stone tablets with the teachings and commandments which I have inscribed to instruct them.” (24:12-14).|
|In summation: This is how it looks from the perspective of humankind as a whole.||In summation: This is how it looks from the internal perspective of the Jewish nation.|
Thus, the giving of the Torah is presented here in two aspects: as revelation, the principles of which are universal, comprising the Ten Commandments, and as Covenant, consisting of detailed, specific legislation.
It is important in one’s understanding of the Torah to maintain a balance between these two aspects.