Michael LinetskyThe writer is director of the Torat Eretz Yisrael Institute (www.torateretzyisrael.org).
The beginning of the Book of Bamidbar (Numbers) brings us to God’s communion with Moses at the opening of the Tent of Meeting. Through out their station in the Wilderness God communes with the Jewish People through this very specific conduit
This phenomenon of Theophany at the the Tent intrigued the Sages of the Land of Israel and have generated much exegesis. Why does God not aggrandize His Theophany in an open area and with dramatic scenery as He does when the He gives us the Torah?
The 6th century Poet of the Land of Israel Yannai versified on the Torah Portion of Bamidbar:
“The God of Glory which dwells in concealment; Your words of Glory you have spoken – although not in concealment. Lest dissenters say that something was changed; You have changed your Glory which is [usually] in concealment”.
God gives His People the Torah in public view for everyone to see and witness lest dissenters ever have an opening to distort and question the transmission of God’s word in the future.
Our Sages also treat God’s public display at Mt. Sinai. Mekhilta of Rabbi Ishmael as an example supposes the nations to be the target of the Revelation and its intention to be to teach the nations of God’s Unity (Hodesh #5, pg. 220). Yannai, however, consumed by his national consciense limits the implications of the Revelation to its meaning for the Jewish People.
The Revelation at Sinai is the occasion of great historical and revolutionary import and a public display would seem to befit it. However, both the Sages and Yannai perceive this ostentation, not as a norm and certainly not as an ideal, but as a product of necessity and circumstance.
Yannai continues his verse:
“Your approach to speak the words of the Pleasant Nation; You spoke all the Glory of the Glorified ones inwards. He spoke from the Tent concealing work to guide kingship with walking in concealment.”
Yannai refers here to the Tent of Meeting when he speaks of “inwardness”. The reason that God communed with the Jewish People from a mere tent, in concealment rather than in the open, with ostentation and drama is not metaphysical (at least not solely), but didactic – to teach the Jewish People the importance of modesty as the mainstay of one’s behavior and character.
In an effort to set an example for the Jewish People, God,so to speak, lives by His own example. We witness how important the moral and ethical standing of the Jewish People is in the Universal plane as well as God’s function in this plane as mentor and educator of the Jewish People.