Ask most Jews–layperson and scholar alike–what happened on Mount Sinai, and the response is usually something to the effect of “Moses was given the Ten Commandments.”
Heston as Moses
I have often wondered whether this mistake comes from Cecil B. DeMille’s epic movie The Ten Commandments. If you remember, Charlton Heston, with brown robe and staff in hand, makes his way up the mountain and reappears, not too long after, with that “spiritual glow” only old Charlton could have after having a conversation with the Supreme Creator of the Universe.
The Torah’s version however is distinctly different. In a number of places, the Torah mentions that it wasn’t only Moses who heard God speak. The entire Jewish people–man, woman, and child–experienced a direct communication from God at Mount Sinai.
“Moses called all of Israel and said to them: ‘Hear, O Israel, the decrees and the ordinances that I speak in your ears today–learn them, and be careful to perform them. The Lord your God sealed a covenant with us at Horev [Mount Sinai]. Not with our forefathers did God seal this covenant, but with us–we who are here, all of us alive today. Face to face did God speak with you on the mountain from amid the fire.’ (Deuteronomy 5:1-4)”
The question you may be asking yourself is: What’s the difference? So what if only Moses heard God speak at Sinai, or whether it was three million men, women, and children?
The issue has relevance for two areas:
The Power of Mass Revelation
Let’s begin with believability. No other religion sect or cult, from the beginning of time until the present day, has even made the claim that the Torah makes: that more than one person heard God give them their divine mission here on earth.
Whether it be Guru Nanak (Sikhism), Siddhartha Gautama (Buddhism), Mohammad (Islam), Joseph Smith (The Mormons) they all “heard” God tell them that they were the “chosen” to deliver God’s message when they were alone. They then spent the rest of their lives convincing others that God had actually spoken the true gospel to them.