You heard it here first!

Yitro - You heard it here first

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"And G!d spoke all these words, saying…" (Parasha Yitro: Exodus 20:1)

Many of us have heard the lesson that all Jews were present at Mount Sinai when the Torah was given – created or not yet created. This, in itself, creates an interesting paradox.

This midrash takes the matter a step further: what of the events that transpired there, particularly what was spoken by the Eternal One? Listen:

R. Isaac said: The prophets received from Sinai the messages they were to prophesy to subsequent generations; for Moses told Israel: But with him that standeth here with us this day before the Lord our G!d, and also with him that is not here with us this day, etc. (Deut. 29:14). It does not say ‘that is not here standing with us this day,’ but just ‘with us this day:’ these are the souls that will one day be created; and because there is not yet any substance in them the word ‘standing’ is not used with them. Although they did not yet exist, still each one received his share of the Torah, including Malachi and Isaiah.

Not only did all the prophets receive their prophecy from Sinai, but also each of the Sages that arose in every generation received his wisdom from Sinai, for so it says, These words the Lord spoke unto all your assembly… with a great voice, and it went on no more. (Deut. 5:19). R. Johanan said: It was one voice that divided itself into seven voices, and these into seventy languages. R. Simeon b. Lakish said: It was the voice from which all the subsequent prophets received their prophecy. The Sages said: It had no echo.

As to the view of R. Johanan, the following verse supports him, for it says, The Lord giveth the word; they that proclaim the tidings are a great host (Ps. 68:12).

Midrash Rabbah – Exodus XXVIII:6

According to this midrash, there are several elements to what was spoken at Sinai:

  1. It was spoken in several tongues, simultaneously;
  2. It was heard in even more tongues, again simultaneously;
  3. It was spoken with the single voice from which all wisdom and prophecy is received; and
  4. It had no echo.

Consider the first two points: G!d’s Voice is heard by each of us in the language (tongue) best suited to us. What a compelling case for the strength of diversity this makes! You and I each get to share in the Divine One’s wisdom (and other blessings), even though what I receive seems completely foreign to you!

The third point amplifies this, and brings it into the present: when we speak with wisdom, we are speaking the words / things we heard before we were conceived! How awesome, to think that the words that leave our mouths can have their direct source at Sinai! And what a responsibility for laShon haTov (good speech) that creates!

Now, the last point: that the Voice had no echo. What could this possibly mean? Here are my thoughts:

Think about echoes – what relationship do they have to their source? They sound similar, but they are diminished in power, and ultimately fade. They also "bounce" off solid objects, and seem to come to us from a very different direction than the source.

So, it seems to me, it is with G!d’s wisdom. It is never diminished, encounters no obstacles, and never comes from the "wrong" direction.

But that is just my interpretation – what do you think? Leave a comment and let me know!

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One Response to “You heard it here first!”

  1. Regina says:

    Niddah 30a-b Torah study in uteroJune 20, 2012While describing the eincrxepee of the developing embryo, Rabbi Samlai offers a homiletical discourse that includes a well-known Rabbinic tradition that while in utero the baby is taught the entire Torah, but that at the moment of birth an angel comes and slaps it, causing it to forget all that he learned.The obvious question that arises from this story is that the entire enterprise of teaching Torah in this manner appears to have no purpose, given that it is to be forgotten in any case. Many approaches are offered in response to this question.According to the Tikkunei Zohar the purpose of this teaching is so that when the child learns Torah anew, he recalls the learning that took place before he was born, which offers strength and vitality to the knowledge.In his Pit’hei Niddah, Rav Betzalel Ranschberg suggests that because of the impurity manifest in humankind since the sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, it would be impossible to learn Torah and retain its wisdom were it not first learned in the purity of the womb.The Arukh LaNer connects this teaching with the one that follows it in the Gemara. The continuation of Rabbi Samlai’s discourse teaches that upon birth the child is made to take an oath tehi tzaddik ve-al tehi rasha be righteous, and be never wicked; and even if all the world tells you, you are righteous,’ consider yourself wicked. In order for the child to understand the meaning of these terms and accept the oath properly, he must first study Torah.In conclusion, Rabbi Samlai teaches that the following message is given to the soon-to-be-born child:Always bear in mind that the Holy One, blessed be He, is pure, that his ministers are pure and that the soul which He gave you is pure; if you preserve it in purity, well and good, but if not, I will take it away from you.This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the Hebrew version of the Steinsaltz Edition of the Talmud.