The Revelation on Mt. Sinai . . . the giving of the Ten Commandments . . . our Torah portion, Yitro, describes the scene with great fanfare. The text has given cinematographers plenty of good material: thunder and lightning, smoke rising up into the sky, the whole mountain shaking violently, and the loud blaring of a horn, sometimes specifically called a shofar. Miraculous? Inspiring? Awesome? Yes, our Sages teach, but it was also really, really noisy.
When the medieval rabbis read about Sinai, they focus our attention on that seemingly unimportant detail of just how loud it all must have been. One medieval commentator, the French rabbi known as Rashbam, teaches that the description of God answering Moses "in thunder" is really a metaphor about the volume of God's voice—God had to shout to be heard over all of the other noise at Sinai! (see Rashbam on Exodus 19:19). And God was shouting for good reason. "The blast [of the shofar] was louder than any sound that had ever been heard before," Rashbam's contemporary, the Spanish sage Ibn Ezra writes on Exodus 19:16.
Following the giving of the Ten Commandments in last week’s Torah portion,Parashat Mishpatim brings us a diverse collection of civil, criminal, ritual, and ethical laws. Included in the parashah is a section of text that has become relevant to a topic that is highly contested in our day.
Next month, the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear Whole Woman's Health v. Cole, a challenge to a restrictive Texas abortion law. It will be the first time in more than 20 years that the Supreme Court has heard an abortion case.
Anyone who has lived in New York City is familiar with the challenges of "small-space living." When I was apartment hunting in New York, I looked at one apartment where the kitchen was so small, the refrigerator was placed directly in front of the kitchen sink. In order to wash your dishes, the real estate agent explained, you could just stand off to the side and reach in. In the apartment I ended up taking, one of the bedrooms could only fit a bed — no other furniture at all. Luckily, my roommate was short enough to be able to stand underneath a loft bed to access a desk and a dresser.
Since I left New York, though, the concept of small-space living has come into vogue. HGTV, for example, currently airs three series on the glamour of living in spaces with an average size of 180 square feet. An article describes, "For some, the tiny house movement has become a way of life, adjusting to a smaller space and fewer possessions, with a goal of saving money and focusing on relationships and experiences."1
Just a few years after leaving New York City, when my husband and I moved into our not-so-tiny house, I remember wondering how we would ever fill the space. It was so much bigger than any of the apartments I'd lived in. I quickly got used to life in a house, and I'll admit that I much prefer it to the tiny apartment with the side-access sink. But a beautiful midrash on this week's Torah portion, Parashat T'rumah, suggests that God might think about things a little differently.
In this parasha, God commands Moses to take a census of all the Israelite males over the age of twenty as well as firstborns. Each tribe is assigned specific places in the camp around the Tabernacle (the altar). The sons of Levi are counted and their responsibilities are set forth. Listen as the laws for the priests and Kohens are given.
In this parasha, Moses recaps the physical journey the Israelites underwent, and reflects on the reports of the spies. Joshua will become the next leader. Listen to other reflections from Moses.
In this week’s parasha, Noah is told by God to make an ark before a big flood. He is told to gather animals two by two and bring them aboard, along with his family. After the flood, God promises never to destroy God's people again, and the generations that are born are listed. Listen now to hear these names and to find out what happens when people try to build a tower to the sky!
God is taking roll call in this parasha – God tells Moses to take a census, and more laws are detailed.
In this parasha, God speaks to Moses, describing the menorah for the Tent of Meeting. The Levites are appointed to serve as assistants under Aaron and his sons. A cloud by day and fire by night show God's Presence over the Tabernacle (altar). When the cloud lifts from the Tabernacle, the people leave Sinai, setting out on their journey, tribe by tribe. Listen to the Sha-rap to learn about the troubles they have on this journey.
In this parasha, Moses sends twelve spies to the Land of Israel to report on the inhabitants and the country, but their reports aren’t completely truthful. To punish the people, God announces that all those who left Egypt would not enter the Land of Israel except for Joshua and Caleb.