This past Saturday Jews throughout the world began to observe Shavuot, my most favorite of Jewish holidays.
It commemorates that incredible day when God gave us the Ten Commandments and the Torah. Therefore it’s an opportune time to reveal facts about the commandments you might not know.
Shavuot is one of the three major festivals (the other two are Passover and Sukkot). In biblical days, Jews would travel from all over the Holy Land to Jerusalem to make a sacrifice at the Holy Temple on those three festivals.
Historically, Shavuot celebrates the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai and is also known as Hag Matan Torateinu (the Festival of the Giving of Our Torah). Notice it says giving of the Torah not receiving of the Torah. Jews believe we are always receiving the Torah, learning its meanings, understanding the mitzvot. Therefore using receiving doesn’t really work because every day is the time of receiving the Torah. In that spirit below are ten interesting facts most people don’t know about the giving of the Ten Commandments:
1) Mount Sinai: We are taught that Mount Sinai was chosen because it was a “modest-sized mountain” One might think it was because Moses was an alter cocker (Yiddish for cranky old man-literally an old sh*tter) when he had to climb the mountain. Actually, Moses had to climb up and down 4 times. That’s not bad for an 80-year-Old God chose a moderate mountain because he wanted to show that man did not have to be large in stature to meet his potential. Another reason Sinai was chosen was that it was outside of the Holy Land. The laws given at Sinai were basic laws and should apply to all people. Since the law was given outside of the Holy Land God could legitimately demand that these basic rules about how people should live their lives apply not just to Jews but to all people.
2) What Moses looked like: How the heck would I know. But I can definitely tell you he didn’t look like the Charlton Heston-like, traditional way the lawgiver has been portrayed in movies and art. Think about it, here was the child of Hebrew slaves raised in the court of Pharaoh–why would he look like a tall westerner? Sorry to burst your bubbles but Moses was probably short by today’s standards and had dark skin like Middle Easterners today (and BTW we know his wife Zipporah was black).
3) The Revelation at Sinai. Think about this one for a second, the Torah says there were 603,000 people at Mount Sinai to hear God’s words in God’s voice.The first two of the Ten Commandments were also heard directly from God speaking to the Jewish people, and not through Moses as an intermediary. Jewish tradition explains that the experience was so powerful, that the Jews “died” from the impact of hearing God’s voice. Their souls actually left their bodies from the force of the interaction, and God had to “revive” them. After this happened twice, the Jewish people said, “Enough! We’re convinced – you tell Moses, and he can tell us the rest of them to us!” I bet God was also relieved, even for the creator of the Universe its gotta be hard to revive 603K people
But more importantly; There is no other religious event in the history of mankind where the presence of God was seen and heard by an entire nation. Now some of you may be thinking it is all a fable, that never happened. Most likely those people also believe that the moon landing was staged. But ponder this. There were 603 thousand witnesses, and no one wrote a minority opinion (not even Rep Adam Schiff’s ancestors). There are no parchments saying the entire law giving thing was done at the biblical equivalent of a sound stage in Brooklyn. There are no claims that God from on high was really just Moses standing on some wooden boxes, speaking through a bullhorn and reading the ten commandments off a yellow legal pad.
4) The first word of the Ten Commandments “‘Anochi” (I am) is not in Hebrew it’s in Egyptian. There are 50 days between when the Jews left Egypt (Passover) and when they received the law at Sinai (Shavuot). That’s not a lot of time especially when you consider they were slaves for a few hundred years. Think about it—50 days, they weren’t even away from Egypt long enough to forget the phone numbers of the best Chinese take-out. The Lord wanted them to feel comfortable, so he started with an Egyptian word. This raises the question–if the revelation at Sinai happened today, would the first words be ‘Dudes, check it out, I’m the Alpha Dog here?”