The purpose of the Revelation on Mount Sinai was to establish faith in the Torah, and in the prophecy of Moshe Rabbeinu * The prophets who came after Moshe Rabbeinu draw their authority from his prophecy which was verified on Mount Sinai, and consequently, they can never change a mitzvah from the mitzvot said there
Fifty days after the Exodus from Egypt, the Children of Israel merited to receive the greatest divine revelation on earth, in which Hashem gave His Torah to His People Israel (Exodus 19: 1-20). The essence of the Torah is the Emunat HaYichud (belief in the Oneness of God), and as our Sages said (Makkot 24a), that all 613 mitzvot rest on one mitzvah – the mitzvah of emunah (faith).
The mitzvah of emunah is detailed into two commandments: a mitzvah aseh (positive commandment) to strengthen oneself in Emunat HaYichud, and a mitzvah lo ta’aseh (negative commandment) to beware of avodah zara (idolatry), so as to guard Emunat HaYichud in its purity.
These two mitzvot are the first of the Ten Commandments, which we heard directly and explicitly mi’pi ha’Gevurah, (directly from the Almighty) [Makkot 24a).
The Belief in the Oneness of God and Morality
Emunat HaYichud and mussar (morality) are inseparable. Our Sages said (Kiddushin 31a; Bamidbar Rabbah 8: 4), that when the kings of the nations who reigned under the auspices of idols, heard that in the first commandment, Hashem said: “I am the Lord your God,” they said: ‘He’s just like us – he teaches this for his own honor, for every king wants no one else to deny him’.
On the second commandment, “Do not have any other gods before Me,” they said: ‘He teaches this for his own honor, for all kings do not want to have a partner’.
On the third commandment: “Do not take the name of God your Lord in vain,” they said: ‘Every king wants them not to swear by his name falsely’.
When they heard the fourth commandment, “Remember the Sabbath to keep it holy,” they said: ‘Every king wants to be honored with his special day’.
However, when they heard the fifth commandment, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ they were puzzled, for all kings demand of all those who are enslaved to them to deny their parents so that they may be faithful only to them, and Hashem declares that they must honor their parents, and does not see this as harming his honor.”
They rose from their thrones, and conceded the truth of the first statements, as written (Psalms 138:4) “All the kings of the earth shall praise You, O LORD, for they have heard the words You spoke.”
The more they understood that the following mitzvot also deal with human dignity and the relationship between man and his fellow neighbor – do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not testify as a false witness against your neighbor, do not be envious – the more their astonishment increased, and for a short while they knew that Hashem is true and His Torah is true, that the idols are false, and the kingdom of the rulers in their name is a kingdom of falsehood and evil.
In practice, however, Am Yisrael is still required to fight for these principles; nearly two thousand years passed until in straight as well as circuitous routes, the principle of Emunat HaYichud, which requires moral refinement, was accepted by the majority of peoples of the world. Still, there is much work ahead of us to refine and purify emunah and mussar, and thereby, rectify all evil desires and bring the blessing of Hashem to all nations.
The foundation of faith and morality was also manifested in the fact that despite Israel being lowly slaves, Hashem kept the covenant and oath He had made with their fathers, Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaacov, and redeemed them from Egypt. In the entire world, as per the pagan concept, power was the primary value. Consequently, people valued the powerful and the rulers, and despised slaves, almost to the point where they were not considered human beings, but as the property of their masters.
In contrast, Hashem chose that the greatest revelation ever would be precisely to the poor and humiliated slaves. He brought them out of captivity and brought them to Mount Sinai; to them He revealed Himself in the mists of purity; to them, in His great love, He gave His Torah; and through them, He spoke to the distinguished and important people of the world, in all generations.
The Level of Moses and the Other Prophets
Moshe Rabbeinu was unique and extraordinary, in that Hashem planted his special soul in the generation of the birth of the Israeli nation. Moshe also purified his middot (virtues) and sacrificed his life for Israel and the honor of Hashem, to the point where he merited being Hashem’s emissary to bring Israel out of Egypt, and receive the Torah at Mount Sinai. The level of his prophecy was above the rest of the prophets, as we learned from the sin of Miriam and Aaron, who did not properly understand the unique level of their brother Moshe.
Hashem reproved them, and taught that the level of Moshes’ prophecy was different from the rest of the prophets. “God said, ‘Listen carefully to My words. If someone among you experiences divine prophecy, then when I make Myself known to him in a vision, I will speak to him in a dream. This is not true of My servant Moses, who is like a trusted servant throughout My house. With him I speak face to face, in a vision not containing allegory, so that he sees a true picture of God. How can you not be afraid to speak against My servant Moses?” (Numbers 12: 6-8).
This level is special to such a degree that the Torah testified that there was never a prophet like Moshe, and never will be, as the Torah says “No other prophet like Moshe has arisen in Israel, who knew God face to face” (Deuteronomy 34:10).
Aspaklaria Meira (A Clear Looking Glass)
Our Sages said (Yevamot 49b): “All of the prophets observed their prophecies through an unclear looking glass,aspaklaria., however, Moshe Rabbeinu observed his prophecies through a clear looking glass.” In other words, seeing the prophecy is similar to seeing through glass or a mirror – when it is clear, it is called ‘aspakaria meira’, and when it is cloudy, it is called ‘aspakaria she’aina meira‘.
Therefore, the rest of the prophets received their prophecy in parables and riddles that needed to be deciphered and defined, whereas Moshe received a completely clear prophecy, to the point where all its details were revealed to him with maximum accuracy, mi’pi ha’Gevurah, (directly from the Almighty) [see, Rambam Hilkhot Yesodei HaTorah 7:2-6; Daat Zekenim by Baalei Tosephot, Bamidbar, ibid.; Derech Hashem Vol. 3, Chap. 5: 1-5).
Another Difference between Moshe and the Prophets
All the prophets were unable to prophesize whenever they wanted, unless they purified and sanctified themselves, and Hashem desired – then, they merited prophesy. However, Moshe Rabbeinu, whenever he desired, received ruach hakodesh (Divine inspiration) and nevu’ah (prophecy). And by the magnitude of his status, he was required to always be ready and prepared to receive prophecy. Therefore, at the end of the revelation at Mount Sinai, Hashem said to Moshe: “Go and tell them (to Israel) to return to their tents (a euphemism for marital relations), You, however, must remain here with Me,” i.e., separate from your wife from here on in, in order to always be prepared to receive words of the Torah (Deuteronomy 5: 27-28; Avodah Zara 5a). Consequently, the rest of the prophets did not separate themselves from their wives, while Moshe Rabbeinu did (Rambam, Yesodei HaTorah 7:6).
Moshe’s prophecy was further distinguished by the fact that at Mount Sinai, all of Israel saw for themselves the divine revelation to Moshe face to face, and by virtue of this, received with absolute faith the Torah given to them by God, through Moshe.
The Revelation at Mount Sinai: the Pinnacle of Prophecy
In addition to Moshe Rabbeinu’s prophecy being above the level of all the other prophets, the divine revelation at Mount Sinai, in which Moshe played a central role, was above and beyond any prophetic revelation on earth. This was the purpose of Mount Sinai, to establish faith in the Torah and in Moshe Rabbeinu,
Hashem’s messenger for receiving the Torah, as written (Exodus 19: 9): “God said to Moses, ‘I will come to you in a thick cloud, so that all the people will hear when I speak to you. They will then believe in you forever.” To this end, Hashem revealed Himself to all of Israel at Mount Sinai, to the point where they believed in Hashem with absolute certainty, and knew that He had no body or figure, and there is no other besides him (Exodus 19: 16-19; Deuteronomy 4: 11-15; 5: 4-5).
Since the revelation at Mount Sinai is the foundation of emunah and Torah, we are commanded to always remember it, as written (Deuteronomy 4: 9-10): “Only take heed and watch yourself very carefully, so that you do not forget the things that your eyes saw. Do not let this memory leave your hearts, all the days of your lives. Teach your children and children’s children about the day you stood before God your Lord at Horeb. It was then that God said to me, ‘Congregate the people for Me, and I will let them hear My words. This will teach them to be in awe of Me as long as they live on earth, and they will also teach their children.”
All the Souls of Israel Stood at Mount Sinai
Our Sages said that all the souls of Israel who were to be born, were also at Mount Sinai, and absorbed the foundations of emunah and Torah. This is what Moshe Rabbeinu said to the offspring of those who stood by Mount Sinai, who did not stand there themselves, that Hashem made the covenant with them as well, at Sinai (Deuteronomy 5: 2-3), and even with all the generations to be born in the future (Deuteronomy 29: 13-14). Our Sages added and said that even the root of the souls of converts participated and stood on Mount Sinai (Shabbat 146a).
The Prophets Following Moshe Rabbeinu
The role of the prophets is to continue in the path of Moshe Rabbeinu and teach Torah to Israel, to strengthen them in keeping the mitzvot, and guide them in the ways of their observance according to the needs of the hour – for the general populace, and for the individual. However, by no means may they displace or change anything from the words of the Torah, because we are commanded to fulfill the words of the Torah for eternity, as the Torah says (Deuteronomy 13: 1): “It is enough that you carefully observe everything that I am prescribing to you. Do not add to it and do not subtract from it.” It is also written (Leviticus 27: 34):
“These are the commandments that God gave Moses for the Israelites at Mount Sinai” coming to teach us “that from now on a prophet is not permitted to introduce any new element related to the Torah and its mitzvot through prophecy” (Temurah 16a). Thus, if a prophet says that something should be changed in the Torah, to cancel a mitzvah or add one, it is known that he is a false prophet and his punishment is death by strangulation. However, as a hora’at sha’ah (temporary instruction), in order to elevate the people to adhere to Torah, it is a mitzvah to listen to a prophet to transgress a mitzvah from the Torah (Rambam Yesodei HaTorah 9: 1; 4-5).
No signs and wonders that false prophets can perform compare at all to receiving the Torah in the Revelation at Mount Sinai. For any sign or wonder a prophet can perform, does not absolutely verify that he is indeed a prophet. This is because there is always a certain fear that he did it by magic or deception, but as long as it does not contradict the words of the Torah, it must be assumed that he is indeed a prophet, and it is a mitzvah to listen to him, just as two witnesses are trusted, even though they sometimes lie.
On the other hand, in the Revelation at Mount Sinai, all of Israel participated, and in all their being, consciousness, spirit, and soul, they saw and heard Hashem giving the Torah to Israel through Moses, and all of Israel witnessed it. Therefore, any prophet who comes to deny the Torah is a false prophet, and must be put to death (Rambam Yesodei HaTorah 8: 1-3).
This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew.