Home>Jewish Living

Torah Sparks

February 17, 2001 - 5761

Prepared by Rabbi Randall J. Konigsburg
Temple Sinai, Hollywood, FL

Edited by Rabbi David L. Blumenfeld, PhD
Department of Services to Affiliated Congregatio

Annual Cycle: Exodus 18:1-20:23; Hertz Chumash, p. 288
Triennial Cycle III: Exodus 19:1-20:23, p. 290
Haftarah: Isaiah 6:1-13; 7:1-6; 9:5-6, p. 302

(18:1-12) Moses' father-in-law Jethro comes to visit, bringing Moses' wife Zipporah and his two sons.

(18:12-27) Jethro advises Moses to appoint officers and judges to help him lead the people, creating the political structure for living by the Torah.

(19:1-6) The people prepare to accept the covenant and receive the Torah at Mount Sinai, where they will become a "kingdom of priests and a holy nation."

(19:7-15) Moses tells the elders to prepare the people to receive the revelation.

(19:16-25) Dramatic phenomena accompany God's manifestation at Mount Sinai. Moses ascends the mountain.

(20:1-14) The Ten Commandments.

(20:15-18) The people are terrified by God's power, and they beg Moses to mediate between them and God.

(20:19-23) More commandments concerning the Altar.

Discussion Theme 1: Revealing Revelation

Let them be ready for the third day; for on the third day the Lord will come down, in the sight of all the people, on Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:11)

  1. (Jewish religion and law) do not stem from beliefs held by human beings at one period or another. They do not represent time-bound human concepts of G-d, of things human and Divine. They are G-d-given. They contain ideas that, by the will of G-d, should mold the concepts of men for all time with regard to G-d and to things Divine. From the very outset the Law of G-d stood in opposition to the people in whose midst it was to make its first appearance on earth. (S. R. Hirsch, commentary on the Torah, vs. 10-13; Translated by G. Hirschler p. 279)
  2. There are at least four distinct approaches to revelation in the Conservative Movement which we will now consider: (Dr. Elliot N. Dorff: Conservative Judaism: Our Ancestors to our Descendants; United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism; see Chapter 3 Section D for a full treatment)
    • Conservative I: The revelation at Sinai and those which followed, were written down by human beings, and hence there are diverse sources of biblical literature which one discovers when one studies the Bible historically.
    • Conservative II: Human beings wrote the Torah at various times and places. That is why the Torah contains diverse documents, laws, and ideas. These people were, however, divinely inspired, and therefore their words carry the insight and authority of G-d.
    • Conservative III: The Torah is the record of how human beings responded to G-d when they came into contact with the Eternal...However, since the Torah was written by human beings, if we want to learn about the origins and meaning of the Bible, we must use the techniques of biblical scholarship as thoroughly and honestly as we can.
    • Conservative IV: (Reconstructionist approach) ...Human beings wrote the texts of the Tradition. The authors were, in many cases, trying to capture the experience of the sacred in writing. G-d is not the author.

Discussion Sparks:

The real distinction between the denominations in Judaism can be found right here, in their differing understanding of Revelation. Most of the other differences in belief and practice stem from this divergence. Why does it seem that Hirsch has a unified position and Conservative Judaism has a range of belief? How would you categorize the differences between the Orthodox and Conservative points of view? Why are there various opinions in Conservative Judaism? What common thread ties these four divisions together under the category of "Conservative"? What are the advantages of Hirsch's fundamentalist approach over the non-fundamentalism of Conservative Judaism?

What are the advantages of Conservative Judaism's position over Hirsch?

Discussion Theme 2: The Purpose of Torah

G-d spoke all these words, saying: I the Lord am your G-d who brought you out of the land of Egypt, the house of bondage (Exodus 20:1-2)

  1. Said the Lizensker Rebbe: "In order to accept the sovereignty of the Lord, we must perform all His commandments. We learn this from the words "and G-d spoke all these words: I am the Lord your G-d." The whole Torah was spoken - in order to enable us to say that the Lord is our G-d" (A.B. Michelson; Ohel Elimelech , p.56 translated in L. Newman; The Hasidic Anthology 183:11 p. 480)
  2. The Ten Commandments contain within them the entire Torah. They stand parallel to the ten utterances of G-d in creating the world. Just as all of Creation and all that has happened since, in general and in particular, were included in those ten "let there be’s, so is all of Torah- all the commandments as performed by every one of Israel, general and particular, are included within these Ten Commandments. The difference between these two sets of ten is that the divine utterances of Creation are fixed within nature, while the commandments are constantly renewed. They are the inner side of the ten utterances. That is why Mishnah Avot (5:1) can teach that the world was created with ten utterances "To give goodly reward to those who preserve" it. This "goodly reward" is Torah. (Rabbi Yehudah Leib Alter of Ger; Sefat Emet 2:103 in A. Green; The Language of Truth; p. 108)

Discussion Sparks:

What makes the Ten Commandments different from the other 603? What "deeper" meanings exist in them, so much so that we give them greater recognition? What does the Gerer Rebbe mean when he says that the ten utterances are "fixed" while the other command-ments are "constantly renewed"?

Find a Kehilla USY Conservative Yeshiva Donate Careers Contact us
Copyright © 2017
United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism
All rights reserved.
120 Broadway, Suite 1540
New York, NY 10271-0016