The Giving of the Torah

The experience at Mount Sinai is a formative event in Jewish tradition and culture. In this resource, we will explore the description of that event and what that description can teach us about the Torah.

Resource Ages: 6-8

Source

On the third day, as morning dawned, there was thunder, and lightning, and a dense cloud upon the mountain, and a very loud blast of the shofar; and all the people who were in the camp trembled. Moses led the people out of the camp toward God, and they took their places at the foot of the mountain. Now Mount Sinai was all in smoke, for the Lord had come down upon it in fire; the smoke rose like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain trembled greatly. The sound of the shofar grew louder and louder. Moses spoke and God answered him in a voice.

(Exodus 19:16-19)

וַיְהִי בַיּוֹם הַשְּׁלִישִׁי בִּהְיֹת הַבֹּקֶר,

וַיְהִי קֹלֹת וּבְרָקִים וְעָנָן כָּבֵד עַל הָהָר, וְקֹל שֹׁפָר חָזָק מְאֹד.

וַיֶּחֱרַד כָּל הָעָם אֲשֶׁר בַּמַּחֲנֶה.

וַיּוֹצֵא מֹשֶׁה אֶת הָעָם לִקְרַאת הָאֱ-לֹהִים, מִן הַמַּחֲנֶה, וַיִּתְיַצְּבוּ בְּתַחְתִּית הָהָר.

וְהַר סִינַי עָשַׁן כֻּלּוֹ מִפְּנֵי אֲשֶׁר יָרַד עָלָיו ה’ בָּאֵשׁ.

וַיַּעַל עֲשָׁנוֹ כְּעֶשֶׁן הַכִּבְשָׁן, וַיֶּחֱרַד כָּל הָהָר מְאֹד.

וַיְהִי קוֹל הַשֹּׁפָר הוֹלֵךְ וְחָזֵק מְאֹד. מֹשֶׁה יְדַבֵּר וְהָאֱ-לֹהִים יַעֲנֶנּוּ בְקוֹל.

At Mount Sinai, by Barbara Fisher

Foundations for Planning

Essential Questions

  • Why is it important for people and cultures to construct narratives about their experience?
  • How is the Torah story my story?

Content Questions Related to the Essential Questions

  • How does collective memory help to form national identity?
  • How does the story of the giving of the Torah relate to our own lives?
  • What do we learn from the stories of the generations that came before us?

Background for Teacher

After having left Egypt, the Children of Israel were given the Torah at Mount Sinai, as described in the book of Exodus (Chapter 19). According to tradition, this event occurred in the month of Sivan, and is marked on the festival of Shavuot, which...

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After having left Egypt, the Children of Israel were given the Torah at Mount Sinai, as described in the book of Exodus (Chapter 19). According to tradition, this event occurred in the month of Sivan, and is marked on the festival of Shavuot, which is also known as Chag Matan Torah – the Festival of the Giving of the Torah. On this occasion, the Children of Israel heard the Ten Commandments declared by God. The commandments were later written on stone tablets, which God gave to Moses and Moses handed on to the people. This is naturally an extremely important event in Jewish history. In the Book of Deuteronomy (Chapter 29), Moses renews the covenant made at Mt. Sinai between the Children of Israel and God, and reminds them that the covenant was not made with them alone, but all the future generations of the Jewish people. Midrash Tanchuma (Nitzavim, 29, C) explains that the future generations were actually present in person at Mt. Sinai. This explanation highlights the personal connection between each Jew and the events at Mount Sinai, and encourages us to ask how this event relates to our own lives.

The values of the Torah, in general, and the Ten Commandments, in particular, remain influential and meaningful even for those who are not traditionally observant. The Torah and the stories and laws that it includes can be culturally and spiritually meaningful. The story of the experience at Mount Sinai links Jews from around the world and across generations; it is a foundational event in the Jewish story.

The art of Barbara Fisher: A slightly abstract illustration of the sounds, the thunder and lightning and the cloud over Mount Sinai. Colorful flames shoot out of the mountain. White sections represent the cloud and the Children of Israel are shown crowded around the base of the mountain in wonder and, possibly, fear. In the center, against a light background, we see Moses with the tablets in his hands to stress that this is the focal point of the event.

In this resource, we will focus on different aspects of the experience at Mount Sinai and their importance for how we relate to the Torah.

Optional Hooks
In-Depth Discussion
Suggested Activities
Further Study

Have the students study the artwork by Barbara Fisher and ask them to think about or describe what they see in the picture, how it makes them feel and what in the picture attracts their attention. Then, explain that this work is meant to be an illustration of the events at Mount Sinai.

After learning about the text and the event, you can revisit the picture, examining how it depicts the scene — its grandeur, the circumstances, the images, etc. — through the use of shapes and colors. For example, look at the color of the mountain and the color of its surroundings, the position of the Children of Israel in relation to the mountain, the flames that surround the mountain and seem to come out of it, the background that draws attention to Moses, the color of the tablets, etc.

Click here to view our consolidated list of suggested interactive pedagogies for classroom discussion.

  1. Describe the different things that took place at the giving of the Torah. What do those different things have in common?
  2. How do you think the people who were there felt?
  3. Why do you think that the Torah was given with thunder and lightning, fire and smoke?
  4. Why do you think that the Torah was given on a mountain?
  5. Why do we tell the story of the giving of the Torah?
  6. Why is it important to be familiar with the story of the experience at Mount Sinai, even though it happened a long time ago? What does it teach us?
  7. At Mount Sinai, everyone stood together and received the Torah together. What did this togetherness add to the experience? What can we learn from it?
  • Have the students choose a character that was present at Mount Sinai (a boy or a girl, a man or a woman, or even a sheep or a rock) and tell the story from that character’s point of view. This could also be done in the form of an interview. You can make reference to the Midrash Tanhuma (see “Further Study”) that teaches that we were all present at Mount Sinai and discuss how that affects how we relate to the event.
  • Read the story of the argument between the mountains about where the Torah should be given and discuss the value of humility, as can be learned from this story, and how humility is related to Torah. You can ask the students to write their own stories about the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai.Why was the Torah given on Mount Sinai?
    When the Holy Blessed One wanted to give the Torah to Israel, all of the mountains came before Him.
    Mount Tavor came before the Holy Blessed One and said: It would be fitting for the Torah to be given on me, since I am taller than all of the other mountains and, therefore, I’d be an honorable place for the Torah to be given!
    Mount Carmel came before the Holy Blessed One and said: It would be fitting for the Torah to be given on me, for when the Red Sea split, I got in the middle and the Children of Israel walked on me as they passed through the sea. Therefore, I’d be an honorable place for the Torah to be given!
    The Holy Blessed One said to them: You are both unfit for the giving of the Torah, because of your arrogance. I will give the Torah on Mount Sinai, because it is the most humble mountain.

    (Adapted from Midrash Tehillim (Buber), psalm 68, verse 9)
  • Study the Midrash Tanhuma that tells about how all Jewish souls were present at Mount Sinai, even those of people who had not yet been born.Rabbi Abahu taught in the name of Rabbi Shmuel bar Nahmani:
    Why is it written, “…those who are here with us and those who are not here with us” (Deuteronomy 29:14)?
    To indicate that the souls [of all of the children of Israel from all of the generations] were there, even if their bodies had not yet been created.

    (Midrash Tanhuma, Parshat Nitzavim, chapter 29, clause 3)

    After studying the midrash, make a bulletin board with pictures of all of the students. Put a speech bubble next to each picture. In the bubble next to their picture, have the students write what they felt or thought when they were at Mount Sinai.