If there is a climactic moment in the Torah, if there is a part of the narrative that defines the emergence of the Jewish people as a spiritual nation, then it is here in this week’s reading. The Master Being reveals himself to the Israelites, and they see G-d!
“All the people saw the sounds, the flames, the sound of the shofar, and the mountain emitting smoke. The people saw and they trembled, and stood far off.” (Ex. 20:15).
They “saw the sounds”, they had a spectacular group revelation. According to the Midrash, ‘Rabbi Akiva says, they saw what is heard, and heard what is seen.”
Why then, did they tell Moshe, “…You speak to us and we will listen. Let G-d not speak with us lest we die” (Ex 20:16). Our tradition teaches us that after the first two of the ten “commandments” (not really commandments, but that’s another story..) G-d’s voice was heard by Moshe only.
This is supported in the text by the fact that G-d refers to himself in the first person for the first two utterances (Anochi-I), and is referred to in the third person in the remaining statements, implying that Moshe is telling them. Was this part of the divine plan?
As Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan explains in his landmark essay, “If You Were G-d”, a continuously visible deity would destroy our free will. Who could choose when the judge and jury are constantly holding court. This constant scrutiny could only lead to rebellion.
It is no surprise then, that 40 days later the nation would rebel with the incident of the Golden Calf.
No, it is more advantageous for us to have to struggle with faith to “see” the voice of G-d,
elevating ourselves in the process. The moments that define us these days are those when we are able to choose to do the right thing, when more convenient to do otherwise. But, the echoes of the divine shofar at Sinai still reverberate in the very fabric of being of all creation. If only we would stop, look and listen.