The Covenant at Sinai

January 27, 2022

The Exodus from Egypt would not have been complete without entering into a covenant with God. In this covenant, the nation of Israel swears to keep the Torah. Just like the covenant made with Abraham, the covenant at Sinai was sealed with blood (Exodus 24:8). Unlike the covenant with Abraham which was a promise to future generations, this covenant was made with the entire nation that was present at Sinai, as well as all future generations.

The Israel Bible explains how this bond with future generations is expressed in the twelve pillars set up at Sinai:

If the Twelve Tribes are physically present at the foot of the mountain, what is the meaning behind the symbolic representation of the tribes through the twelve pillars erected by Moshe? Commentators reflect that these pillars are meant to represent all future descendants of the nation alongside the generation that exited Egypt. Based on this verse, the Sages of the Midrash teach that, in a sense, all the future souls of the Jewish nation were present at Sinai; they too witnessed the revelation of God and personally accepted the Torah and its laws upon themselves.

The Torah is not a guidebook for individual spirituality, rather it was given to the entire nation. It was at this juncture, when the Children of Israel accepted the Torah at Sinai, that they became God’s chosen nation. This is expressed in glowing terms:

Now then, if you will obey Me faithfully and keep My covenant, you shall be My treasured possession among all the peoples. Indeed, all the earth is Mine, but you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the children of Yisrael.” Exodus 19:5-6

It should also be noted that the covenant with Abraham was unconditional and no responsibilities were expressed. In the covenant at Sinai, Israel promised to follow the commandments and the consequences for non-compliance were dire. The Jews were instructed at Sinai that as part of the covenant, they bore the consequences of their sins, collectively and as individuals.

The Israelites gathered at Mount Sinai

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, former chief rabbi of the United Kingdom, explained the significance of the group revelation: “It created certainty and removed doubt” Rabbi Sacks wrote. “The authenticity of a revelation experienced by one person could be questioned. One witnessed by millions could not. God disclosed His presence in public to remove any possible suspicion that the presence felt, and the voice heard, were not genuine.”

This obligation to perform the commandments is clearly expressed in what is essentially a reiteration of the Sinai covenant (Deuteronomy 11:13–21). This reiteration is recited twice-daily as part of the foundational prayer, the Shema. This passage declares that as long as Israel is faithful to God it will be blessed with ample crops, but should it follow other gods the land will not support it.

Judaism asserts that the Mosaic covenant was presented to the Jewish people and converts to Judaism. It does not apply to Gentiles, with the notable exception of the Seven Noahide Laws which apply to all people.

Shira Schechter

Shira Schechter is the content editor for TheIsraelBible.com and Israel365 Publications. She earned master’s degrees in both Jewish Education and Bible from Yeshiva University. She taught the Hebrew Bible at a high school in New Jersey for eight years before making Aliyah with her family in 2013. Shira joined the Israel365 staff shortly after moving to Israel and contributed significantly to the development and publication of The Israel Bible.

Shira Schechter

Shira Schechter is the content editor for TheIsraelBible.com and Israel365 Publications. She earned master’s degrees in both Jewish Education and Bible from Yeshiva University. She taught the Hebrew Bible at a high school in New Jersey for eight years before making Aliyah with her family in 2013. Shira joined the Israel365 staff shortly after moving to Israel and contributed significantly to the development and publication of The Israel Bible.

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