Project Genesis

Mt. Sinai and the Burning Bush

Question: What was the difference between  G-d’s revelation to the Jews at Sinai and His revelation at the burning bush.

Answer: There are several differences, but the main differences are:

  1. Moshe (Moses) saw the vision at the Burning Bush alone. The entire nation heard G-d at Sinai. (This is the greatest proof that the Torah is true, because Judaism is the only religion that claims its start with an entire nation hearing G-d).

  2. The revelation at Sinai was on a higher level of revelation than Moshe’s vision at the Bush.

  3. The revelation at Sinai took preparation, the 49 days from leaving Mitzrayim, with the last 3 days being special days of preparation. The vision at the Bush was without preparation.

It should be noted that the Bush was at Mt. Sinai. Also, the word “sneh” which means “bush” is similar to “Sinai“.

All the Best, Rabbi Azriel Schreiber

Torah Given in Installments

Filed under: Shavuos, G-d and Torah

Question: I was wondering what exactly we received at Mt Sinai. I know that we heard the Ten commandments. I am also aware of the fact that there is a dispute in the Talmud as to how the parts in the Torah after Mt Sinai were recorded. I therefore assumed that in addition to the Ten commandments we also received the written scroll by Moses up till and including the Torah portion of Yisro. However recently I have come across things that may indicate differently but I am not sure. If you could answer this and tell me the sources that would be great.

Answer: Thanks for your very important question. There were several different “receptions” at Mt. Sinai. Perhaps the very first was when we said, “We will do and we will hear.” That is, we accepted on ourselves that we would keep whatever commandments we are given. We didn’t know what they were yet, but at that moment we became G-d’s servants.

The first direct reception was the words that we heard from G-d (so to speak). Though the simple reading would be that that included all the ten commandments, our sages say that only the first two commandments were actually heard directly. The most obvious source for this fact is to note that G-d is in the first person in the first two (I am Hashem your G-d…no other gods before me…), whereas in the last eight he is in the third person (Don’t take the name of Hashem your G-d in vain…The seventh day is a Sabbath to Hashem your G-d…)

The last eight would have been said to them directly also. Only, they asked Moshe to listen on their behalf. So too for the rest of the Torah. During the forty days that Moshe was on Mt. Sinai, G-d taught him the basic laws and details of the entire Torah. He received the Torah on our behalf. It was parceled out to Israel as it was needed, over the ensuing forty years. As you pointed out, the Talmud in Gittin 60a has a dispute whether the Torah was written down as it was taught, in pieces, or was written only at the very end when it was complete. As to what was given before Mt. Sinai, that is a dispute between the commentaries of Rashi and the Ramban. On Exodus 24(7) “He took the book of the covenant and read it before the people”, Rashi explains that the book of the covenant was the Torah up to the part about the giving of the Torah, plus the Mitzvos that were already commanded at Marah. The Ibn Ezra and the Ramban, though, say there that the “book of the covenant” was read after the giving of the Torah, and contained the laws at the end of Parshas Yisro and in Parshas Mishpatim.

Best wishes,
Michoel Reach

Calculating the Years Since Mt. Sinai

Filed under: G-d and Torah

Question: When was the Torah written? By whom?

Answer: The Torah was shown in its entirety to Moses at Sinai, who wrote it precisely as shown. G-d himself penned the “Ten Statements” on the two Tablets. All this occurred 3,323 years ago.

Eliahu Levenson

Question: On what evidence do you calculate 3321 years?

Answer: Since you asked, what is written below is from other work I have committed to writing on the subject:

The following are the calculations up until the Flood, using the information found in Genesis, Chapter 5:

1) Born Hebrew Year 1 – Adam

2) Born Year 130 – Shais (Seth)

3) Born Year 235 – Enosh

4) Born Year 325 – Kaynon (Kenan)

5) Born Year 395 – Mahalalail (Mahalalel)

6) Born Year 460 – Yared (Jered)

7) Born Year 622 – Chanoach (Enoch)

8) Born Year 687 – Mesushalach (Methuselah)

9) Born Year 874 – Lamech

10) Born Year 1,056 Noach (Noah)

To continue our time-line, we turn to Genesis 7:11 – “In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life…the windows of the Heavens were opened.”

Noah was born in 1,056. Exactly 600 years later the Heavens opened and flooded the Earth for 40 days and 40 nights.

1,056 + 600 = 1,656, the year of the Flood. Using our present day Gregorian calendar, subtracting 1,656 from the current Hebrew year, 5,769, we have the result that the flood waters began falling 4,113 years ago. That’s not so very long a time. In God’s way of viewing time, the entire history of Man will seemingly move from beginning to end in the blink of an eye.

Note that God’s Hebrew Scriptures tell us that Methuselah lived 969 years. Born year 687 and adding 969, we get 1,656 as Methuselah last year, the year of the Flood. Lamech died five years prior to the Flood.

We step back to begin part two of this Godly time-line.

Noach was born in year 1,056.

Genesis 7:6 says, “Noach was six hundred years old when the Mabul was upon the earth.”

Again, we therefore determine the Flood to have occurred in 1,656.

Genesis 7:13-16 – “ the 601st year…in the second month, the 27th day of the month, the earth was completely dry. God spoke to Noach, saying, leave the Teiva (Ark).”


Shavuos in Context

Filed under: Shavuos

Question: I know that the holiday of Shavuos is coming up soon.  What does that word mean in English? What does the holiday commemorate? What season of the year does it come in?

Answer: The word Shavuos means “weeks.” It is called that because it is celebrated after counting seven weeks from the Passover holiday. The Jews were slaves when they were taken out of Egypt on Passover.  The seven weeks following are seen as a time when they grew from their lowly status, to that of noble servants of the King of all Kings. Shavuos was the culmination of this process—the day upon which the Jews accepted the Torah (i.e. the laws detailing their service as dictated by the Master of the World).

The holiday takes place at the beginning of the summer, the time of the ripening of the fruits planted in the spring. This season is symbolic of the ripening of the Jewish people from a lowly seed (when they left Egypt as slaves), to a noble fruit (when they accepted the Torah at Mount Sinai). In fact, the Torah also calls this holiday the Day of the First Fruits (Numbers 28:26). When the Holy Temple was standing in Jerusalem, Jews would bring the first fruits of their crops to the Temple with a procession of great fanfare, and offer them to their Creator as a statement of gratitude for their personal and national prosperity. The bringing of these fruits started on Shavuos.

Best Regards,
Rabbi Mordechai Dixler

Connection of Shavuot to Mt. Sinai

Filed under: Shavuos, G-d and Torah

Question: How did the Rabbis of the Rabbinic period justified making a historical connection between the holiday of Shavu’ot and the giving of the 10 commandments at Mt Sinai/Horeb when ALL references in the Torah to Shavu’ot (Ex. 23:16, 34:22, Lev. 23:15-22, Num. 28:26-31, and Deut. 16:10,16) describe it only as an agricultural harvest festival

Answer:  There is certainly no reason that a festival cannot have multiple functions… stating one by no means precludes others. In any case, the fact that the Torah fails to assign any particular calendar date to Shavuot, but rather requires we observe it seven weeks after Passover, forces us to conclude that Shavuot is primarily a continuation of our recognition of our previously-gained national freedom. The fact that the end of the seventh week must always fall within a day or two of calendar date of the giving of the Torah makes ignoring the connection nearly perverse.

However, it is worth noting that Rabbi S. R. Hirsch (commentary to Lev. 23:20) made a great deal of the fact that the calendar date of Shavuot specifically does NOT correspond directly to the day we received the Torah (which, according to the Talmud, was on the seventh of Sivan), but to the end of seven weekly cycles of spiritual growth evolving from our heightened sense of moral freedom (Passover). It is not some ceremony of commemoration that we celebrate, but an opportunity to grow ever-more deserving of and committed to Torah.

Question: and NONE of the narratives concerning the giving of the 10 commandments at MT Sinai/Horeb (Ex.19-20, 34:1-28, and Deut. 4:10-13, 5:1-19) mention anything about it occurring on Shavu’ot. Actually Exodus 19:1 states that the Israelites entered the Sinai Wilderness on the 3rd new moon after Pesach in Nissan which would make it the month of Tammuz, not Sivan when Shavu’ot is celebrated.

Answer: The text in Exodus 19 doesn’t include the word “after” (as you rendered it) but instead reads “In the third month of the children of Israel’s leaving the land of Egypt…” As in all Torah chronology, such numbering always counts the beginning month as “one”.

Question: BTW, if you say that it’s because the Oral Law says so, then why is there no evidence in the entire Torah and Tanach to back up such a claim?

There is. You might like to read my essay on that subject here

With regards,
Rabbi Boruch Clinton

Why don’t we visit Mount Sinai?

Filed under: G-d and Torah

Question: If Moses received the Torah on Mount Sinai by G-d himself why is this Mountain not visited by Jewish people or tourists around the world?

Answer: We would not want people to worship the mountain or to even think that it had more holiness than any other place. The mountain enjoyed a special holiness only for the time that Gd spoke to Moses there. Once that moment passed the mountain reverted to its previous status. We also are not certain of the location of this mountain. The mountain that Christians have identified as Mt. Sinai and have even built a church on has not been verified as the right location.

All the Best,

Rabbi Azriel Schreiber 

Wigs, Makeup, and Modesty

Filed under: Modesty & Sexuality

Question: My understanding is that the reason for women covering their hair is modesty. So why are wigs permitted? I know a religious woman who got married recently and now wears a wig that is exactly like her natural hair. I am sure that most people don’t realize that her hair is covered. How can that be permitted? Also does modesty permit a woman to put make-up on her face and wear jewelry? If so, why?

Answer: As a (very talented) wig stylist, my wife gets asked this question all the time. She usually responds that regardless of how realistic a wig may appear, it certainly does not feel natural. A woman who wears a wig feels different, and this serves as a reminder to her that her interactions should be consistent with her status as a married woman. There is a subtle message in a wig-wearing-woman’s appearance that conveys that she is committed to a relationship, and certain things are off limits to everybody, save her own husband. That goes a long way in putting all her other relationships in context and is a safeguard against improper behavior. Additionally, most of us are accustomed to the “wig look”, and can tell if it’s a hairpiece or actual hair.

Modesty, contrary to what you might think, is not about making one’s self unappealing; rather it is about not calling attention to oneself. While there is nothing wrong with appearing presentable, there is something wrong dressing in a way that is provocative or alluring. While there are certain rules and guidelines, it is certainly possible to conform to the strict letter of the law while flaunting the spirit of the law. Modesty is as much about attitude and conduct as it is about regulations. Clothing that does not breach the rules of modesty, but is suggestive or evocative, definitely infringes on the concept of modesty. So, if indeed, a wig brings undue attention to a woman, it is no different from any other article of clothing that attracts interest, and while it technically may not violate anything, it contravenes the concept of modesty. However, if the wig merely enables the woman to maintain her appearance, it is perfectly acceptable (according to most opinions). By the way, if you know of anyone looking for a nice wig, send them our way!

All the Best,
Shlomo Soroka

Understanding “Love Your Neighbor”

Question: I have to write an essay on a few of the famous quotes in Leviticus. I am having a particularly troubling time on chapter 19, verse 18 and understanding the meaning of the different commentaries by Rashi and Rambam and one other of my choice of any prominent rabbi. If you could please help me understand the meanings of the commentary by those rabbi’s on the verse “Love your neighbour like you love yourself” that would be great!

Question: “Don’t take revenge or bear a grudge against your fellow Jew, and love your fellow as yourself, I am Hashem.” Rashi explains revenge: I asked you to borrow an ax, and you said no. When you ask me later to borrow something, I say no back. A grudge: When you ask me later, I say yes, but I add, “Not like you did!” Neither of these is an act of love, of bringing closeness between our people. If you love someone, especially if it’s “like yourself”, you can act lovingly toward the other even if he doesn’t always reciprocate. Loving like yourself doesn’t mean, as much as you love yourself – that doesn’t make any sense (Ramban). It means, as a part of yourself. Love is a recognition that I am connected to the other, and that what happens to him matters to me. (There’s an old saying: A mother is only as happy as the most unhappy of her children.) This is what Rabbi Akiva adds is a fundamental principle of the Torah; Jews are all connected.

The Ramban adds that included in this is a lack of jealousy. I want all the best for him, not: But of course, as long as I have a little bit more. Parents aren’t jealous of their children’s accomplishments. Their children are part of them, their successes are the parents’ successes too. We have to feel that way about our fellow Jew, because he’s part of us.Best wishes,

Michoel Reach

Communal Offerings and Synagogue Dedications

Question: In Numbers, ch.28, the laws of the Mussaf offerings [a form communal sacrifices] are discussed. How were the animals, flour, oil, and wine paid for? From Temple funds, or did people ‘bid’ on them, as many congregations do today for certain honors in the synagogue? [I know of a certain congregation that even had donations made for part of the electric bill each month, with the donor’s name posted!]

Answer: All of the communal sacrifices were purchased with communal funds. Every year, all Jewish males over the age of 20, from all over the world, had to donate half a shekel (a form of ancient currency) to the Temple. This money was used to purchase the mussaf offerings, as well as all other communal sacrifices, so that everyone would have an equal share in the Temple and its services. In fact, it was forbidden to bring a communal sacrifice from private funds because that would have disenfranchised the ‘common man’. In other words, bidding on sacrifices that were brought on behalf of everybody was not permitted. However, there were many other things in the Temple that were donated by individuals and were known by their name (the precursor of the modern plaque – “Donated by…”). For example, there was one gate in the Temple that was donated by the people of Shushan [a Persian city] and was called the “Shushan Gate.” Queen Helene donated a special, golden, sun reflector; and her son, Munbaz, paid to have the handles of some of the vessels made of gold. There are many other examples. So we see that donations, and giving credit to the donor, goes back at least to Temple times.

In more recent times (meaning several hundred years, rather than thousand), giving the money to pay for the lights in the synagogue or study hall was always an honor. By paying the electricity bill (or providing oil for the lamps, etc), the donor is providing the light that enables people to learn Torah. (This is especially apropos, as the Torah is likened to light – see Proverbs 6:23).

All the Best, Rabbi Azriel Schreiber

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