The verses immediately preceding the Decalogue Revelation at Sinai are curious, to say the least. God and Moses enter into a dialogue that appears to be a discussion between two deaf individuals, as it were: “The Lord summoned Moses to the mountain peak, and Moses went up. And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Go down and bear testimony to the people that they must not break the boundary toward God to see Him…’ [that is, the people may not go up close to God]. [Even] the priests, who [usually] come near to the Lord, must separate themselves lest the Lord wreak destruction amongst them. “And Moses said to the Lord, ‘The people cannot go up to Mount Sinai; You [God] bore testimony against them, making the mountain off limits… And the Lord said [to Moses], ‘Go down. You can then [later] come [back] up along with Aaron [see Exodus 24:12, after the Decalogue is given to the nation].… And Moses went down to the nation” (Exodus 19:20-25).
How can we understand such repetitious dialogue, with God telling Moses to come up in order to hear that he must go down, Moses arguing that the people cannot come up, God once again telling Moses to go down, and Moses finally going down? And why is this the most fitting introduction to the Decalogue Revelation? I would suggest that this dialogue is setting the stage for the essential purpose of Torah; even more, it is expressing the unique message of Torah, that which distinguishes Judaism from most other religious ideologies and even that which distinguishes Jewish philosophy from the Neo-Platonism of much of Western thought. My revered teacher, Rabbi Joseph B.
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