Sinai’s Appealing Thunder

I will not float in space
un-tethered
lest a cloud obscure
the very fine line in my heart
that separates good and evil.
I have no life-line
without the lightning and the thunder
that I heard at Sinai.

(Click here for the poem by Zelda in Hebrew and English)

Weightless, directionless floating has no appeal for the Israeli poet, Zelda—neither in outer space nor in her own inner space. Without an anchor, right and left are relative terms. Right and wrong are sometimes barely distinct without the internal grounding that can limit reasoning’s sometimes reckless range of motion.

In her inner world—even in the age of astronauts—Zelda is tethered to Sinai, stabilized by the thunder and flash that fuse the senses and gather time into a single moment.

(Click here for related essay “Between the Mountain and the Moment”)

Zelda’s report of the lightning and the thunder that [she] heard at Sinai joins her to an ongoing conversation provoked by this biblical verse:

I make this covenant, with its sanctions, not with you alone, but both with those who are standing here with us this day before the Lord our God and with those who are not with us here this day.

(Click here for Bible verse in Hebrew and English)

Since ancient times, interpreters have pondered what it means to be covenant witnesses who were present at Sinai—and also not.

One ancient interpreter excludes Zelda from that moment, saying that future prophets and sages were present for the Sinai covenant without actually being with us here this day. Isaiah and King David had no literal standing at the mountain, yet their prophetic, creative spirits were present, hearing that which each would someday bring forward—all part of a seamless whole, revealed once and for always. Just so, future sages were present at Sinai, hearing the oral Torah that awaited its proper time and place for revelation:

Even that which future Prophets would prophesy, they received from Mount Sinai. How so? It is written: “those who are standing here with us this day,” refers to those already living. “Standing with us” means one who is in the world. The verse continues: “and with those who are not with us here this day,” refers to anyone who is yet to come into existence but currently is not with us. “Those not with us are here this day:” This part of the verse does not say standing here with us; rather, only those who are not with us. These are the souls who are not yet embodied—those who have no standing; even so, they were part of the community… And not only the prophets, but also all of the sages, living and yet to be…

(Click here for Midrash in Hebrew and English)

Pre-Sinai generations were present in the live, thunderous moment of revelation, says another ancient participant in the conversation. Preceding generations had already imparted meaning to the moment and were present. But what Zelda and the rest of us are able to hear of Sinai in our day is the resounding echo of religious imagination and collective memory as if we had been there. The ancient voice that offers this insight is an Aramaic reworking of the biblical verse that prompted the conversation:

Behold, every generation from ancient time until now is standing with you this day before the Lord, your God, as for every generation that will follow—it is as if they are standing with you this day.

A similar voice “translates” Zelda and the rest of us into the Sinai moment:

Behold, every generation from ancient time until now is standing with us this day before the Lord, our God, even as every generation from now until the end of time is standing with us this day.

(Click here for Bible verses in Aramaic and English)

The thunderous moment of Sinai transcends time in two directions, gathering to the galvanizing moment community both past and future. Zelda and the rest of us can be strengthened by what we heard at Sinai. The thunder is pealing still.

 

 

This entry was posted in Holidays, Memory, Midrash, Poetry. Bookmark the permalink.

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