Moshe Kempinski
Moshe Kempinski Courtesy

The experience of G-d's revelation on Mount Sinai to the people of Israel was dramatic, uplifting and at the same time extremely frightening.

“And all the people saw the sounds and the torches, the sound of the shofar, and the smoking mountain, and the people saw and trembled; so they stood from afar.They said to Moshe, 'You speak with us, and we will hear, but let G-d not speak with us lest we die'."(Exodus 20:15-16)

We see the same fears describe in the book of Deuteronomy;

”And you said: 'Behold, Hashem, our G-d, has shown us His glory and His greatness, and we heard His voice from the midst of the fire; we saw this day that G-d speaks with man, yet [man] remains alive.So now, why should we die? For this great fire will consume us; if we continue to hear the voice of Hashem, our G-d, anymore, we will die. For who is there of all flesh, who heard the voice of the living G-d speaking from the midst of the fire, as we have, and lived?" (Deuteronomy 5:21-23)

Moshe reassures them with an explanation of why Hashem revealed Himself in such a clear and awesome way.

"But Moshe said to the people, 'Fear not, for G-d has come in order to exalt you, and in order that His awe shall be upon your faces, so that you shall not sin'."(ibid 17)

Yet we see that the people continued to be frightful and Moshe ascends alone into the cloud or opaque darkness, into the" ARAFEL, for there was G-d." (ibid 18)

Where does that leave the people of Israel?

How then could these people who have seen so much and have felt so intensely, now make their way back into that intimate contact with Hashem?

How could they, and more importantly how could all of us who have not been privy to even a taste of their experience, make our way into the "ARAFEL (for there was G-d) "?

All of us mortal beings are encumbered by the constraints of our mortality, burdened with our own feelings of unworthiness or arrogance, overwhelmed by the challenges of our physical reality. How then can we break through into the Clouds which conceal so much?

Hashem creates a path. Hashem first acknowledges and validates for them their experience.

He affirms that He has allowed them all to have a glimpse of the unimaginable; "So shall you say to the children of Israel, You have seen that from the heavens I have spoken with you."(ibid 19)

Yet He goes further and offers a pathway. That way is ensconced with the three further instructions he imparts to the people at that delicate moment.

  • You shall not make [images of anything that is] with Me, gods of silver or gods of gold you shall not make for yourselves."(ibid 20).

Hashem is saying, do not try to make physical that which is beyond the physical realm. Do not ascribe to the physical realm, attributes that are relegated to that Divine reality that you yourselves have glimpsed so dramatically.

Instead, Hashem says to create a path made from the physical earth that you came from and live in: "An altar of earth you shall make for Me." (ibid 21).

That altar is simply a path to walk on and bring the offerings of the heart to the place of prayerful encounter. Hashem continues to reassure that "Wherever I allow My name to be mentioned, I will come to you and bless you"

  • Furthermore, Hashem teaches us to not use the weapons of warfare and/or power to create this altar. "And when you make for Me an altar of stones, you shall not build them of hewn stones, lest you wield your sword upon it and desecrate it."(ibid 21).

This is so you do not fall into the psychological trap of “My strength and the might of my hand made me all this greatness” (Deuteronomy 8:17).

  • Finally, be very careful and watchful so that your mortal passions and drives not take you from the purpose of ascending into holiness. "And you shall not ascend with steps upon My altar, so that your nakedness shall not be exposed upon it."(Exodus 20:22)

Therefore, the pathway into the hidden realm of the Divine (Arafel) does not necessitate an abandonment of the physical realm around us but rather it necessitates an elevating of it.

Yet even that needs to be done with humility and an acknowledgement of the touch of G-d in all that we do.

It also necessitates the ability and desire to elevate even our most mortal instincts to a higher purpose.

In the book of Deuteronomy, we are told that Hashem is pleased with the fear and awe the people expressed at Mount Sinai.

"And Hashem heard the sound of your words when you spoke to me, and Hashem said to me, 'I have heard the sound of the words of this people that they have spoken to you; they have done well in all that they have spoken.Would that their hearts be like this, to fear Me and to keep all My commandments all the days, that it might be well with them and with their children forever! Go say to them, Return to your tents."’(Deuteronomy 5 :25-27)

Hashem in his further instructions enables us to take Hashem’s will and his commandments and make our lives relevant to them ,rather than transforming those Higher declarations to simply become relevant to our lives .To make our lives, our Tents, a place of encounter.

“Go say to them, 'Return to your tents”

Rabbi Moshe Kempinski, author of "The Teacher and the Preacher", is the editor of the Jerusalem Insights weekly email journal and co-owner of Shorashim, a Biblical shop and learning center in the Old City of Jerusalem, www,

LeRefuat Yehudit bat Golda Yocheved and Alter Mordechai ben Freda