A Covenant at the Mountain

Feb 8, 2015

וְאֶל־מֹשֶׁה אָמַר עֲלֵה אֶל־יְהֹוָה אַתָּה וְאַהֲרֹן נָדָב וַאֲבִיהוּא וְשִׁבְעִים מִזִּקְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְהִשְׁתַּחֲוִיתֶם מֵרָחֹק׃

Then He said to Moshe, “Come up to Hashem, with Aharon, Nadav and Avihu, and seventy elders of Yisrael, and bow low from afar.

Exodus 24:1

וַיָּבֹא מֹשֶׁה בְּתוֹךְ הֶעָנָן וַיַּעַל אֶל־הָהָר וַיְהִי מֹשֶׁה בָּהָר אַרְבָּעִים יוֹם וְאַרְבָּעִים לָיְלָה׃

Moshe went inside the cloud and ascended the mountain; and Moshe remained on the mountain forty days and forty nights.

Exodus 24:18

Our portion closes with a description of how the law was received by the Children of Israel. God invites Moses, Aaron, Aaron’s two older sons and seventy elders to worship Him from a distance, with only Moses coming closer. Moses then relates all the laws he has received thus far to the people, who acknowledge their commitment to keeping them. Moses records the words and builds an altar with twelve pillars to bring sacrifices to God. He sprinkles half the blood of the sacrifices on the altar and half on the people, signing a covenant in blood to keep God’s laws.


God then tells Moses to climb the mountain and He will give him two tablets with the law carved on them. Moses tells the nation he will return after a while, and in the meantime they are to follow the leadership of Aaron and Hur. Moses climbs up the mountain and the glory of God descends, described as a consuming fire upon the mountain, which was surrounded by clouds. Moses remains on the mountain for forty days and nights.


The Israel Bible comments on the twelve pillars Moses built to accompany the altar. What was their purpose? As the text says, they were symbolic of the twelve tribes, and commentators explain they represent the future generations, as well. From this verse, the Sages teach that every soul descended from Jacob was present at the revelation at Mount Sinai.


Virtual Classroom Discussion

The Torah describes a transcendental experience in which Moses, Aaron, Aaron’s sons and the elders see a manifestation of God. They respond by eating and drinking. Do you think this was the correct response? Why or why not? What can we learn from this encounter about interacting with God?

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