A Mountain Ablaze
Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim
In Deuteronomy, long after the event, Moses recalls elements of Revelation at Sinai. Interesting, he makes numerous mentions of one particular aspect:
And God spoke to you from inside the fire, a voice of words did you hear, and no form did you see, only a voice (4:12).
And be exceedingly careful regarding your souls, for you did not see any form the day God spoke to you in Horeb from inside the fire (4:16).
Has any people heard the voice of God speaking from inside the fire, and survived, as you have (4:33)?
From the heavens He made heard His voice to train you, and on Earth He showed you His great fire, and His words you heard from inside the fire (4:36).
Face to face, God spoke with you on the mountain from inside the fire (5:4).
These matters God spoke to your entire assembly on the mountain from inside the fire... (5:19).
...and you said "And His voice we heard from inside the fire"... (5:21).
For who of all flesh has heard the voice of the living God speaking from inside the fire, and survived, as us (5:23)?
And God gave to me two tablets of stone written with the finger of God, and upon them, as all the words that God spoke with you on the mountain from inside the fire on the day of the assembly (9:10).
What is so significant about fire? Why on a mountain? Why was Moses so careful to recall these two aspects of Sinai so many times? Placed in the context of the event and appreciating the goal, let us rephrase the question: How is a voice emanating from a fiery mountain, indispensable for the proof God’s existence? How is fire different from all other elements, such as earth, water, air, wind, metals, ice, etc? How is a mountain different from all other topography, from lakes, oceans, valleys, hills, etc? I ask this, because Moses repeats these two aspects. He must be driving a some essential feature of the Sinaic Revelation. But what?
Man has discovered life everywhere on this planet. In the most frigid zones, insects live in glacier ice, and fish, under frozen seas. In the highest altitudes, spiders with parachute-like webs keep them afloat on journeys to new continents. In hot, arid deserts, mammals hydrate themselves by licking condensation off of stones placed at the entrances to their burrows. In mud, frogs survive, and deep inside sand dunes, animals breathe through tiny nostrils the air that exists between sand grains. However, fire is the one element in which no biological life can survive. Why was it used by God to prove His existence? The answer is apparent.
God desired man to know that He exists, not to just believe blindly. To this end, God orchestrated an event which would leave no doubt as to the Cause of the event – that this Cause is not a created being, but the Creator of the universe. How was this to be proved? Fire. This one element is mutually exclusive to all life. Yes, certain substances remain intact in even the most severe temperatures, but not life. No one at Sinai assumed anything earthly could “speak to them from inside the fire.” Perhaps someone was dying inside the fire, and shrieked so loud, and that is what they heard? No, the verse says “a voice of words,” meaning, they heard intelligent speech, not someone’s dying shriek. A voice of intelligence emanating from “inside fire” proved beyond any doubt, that they were hearing words caused by God. They were being addressed by the Creator of fire, the Creator of all matter, the One Who is not controlled or affected by creation. He is the One Who designed the universe. He is the only One who could go unaffected by a mountain ablaze. The Jews had solid proof for God’s existence, for the divine nature of the Torah, for God’s will that they follow His commands, and for Moses’ selection as God’s prophet.
Moses also recalls that the Jews so no form. He says to them, “And be exceedingly careful regarding your souls, for you did not see any form the day God spoke to you in Horeb from inside the fire.” Moses wishes to stress that one’s own soul is at stake, if he imagines any form coexisted with the Revelation at Sinai. The Jews' idolatrous tendencies would seek to explain away this unintelligible phenomena at Sinai. Man desires that everything fits into his familiar limited framework of understanding. But Moses alerts the Jews to this dangerous endeavor. He warns them that this event was not one as any other, that could be explained by natural law. “You saw no form,” “And be exceedingly careful for you life,” meaning, an error in connection with what God is, is the greatest error, and one’s life loses it’s purpose when he imagines God as physical in any way. “You saw no form.”
We now understand Moses’ numerous recollections of the event at which the Jews heard God’s voice from inside the fire. Fire dispelled any probability of an earthly existence being the cause of this event.
I believe the reason for a mountain was to enable such a large crowd of 2-3 million people to witness the event. Had this taken place on flat ground, those in the distance would see nothing. The mountain acted as an inverted stadium, where the event may be witnessed unobstructed from afar, and seen by many.
The existence of God is not to be left to faith. God designed man with intelligence so that we engage it, and certainly in the most vital of all areas, our relationship with God, i.e., religious life. Using reason, we today realize that such a massively-attended event must have occurred. We possess the same proof as those eyewitnesses over 3300 years ago. For if Revelation at Sinai did not take place, and Moses attempted to convince some nation that they and millions of others saw something which they had not, the story would never get off the ground. Moses would be viewed as a psychotic individual. That nation would not adopt Moses’ lies in place of what they all knew was their true history. Imagine someone telling a few million New Yorkers that they just witnessed the Twin Towers suddenly reappearing. Not a singe soul would pass this on to his children as a true event, and 3000 years for now, such an event will not be endorsed by major religions. This is exactly what Moses would have confronted, had he lied about Sinai. But the fact that the world accepted the account throughout time and up to today, is a testament to the truth of God’s revelation. It must have occurred. As is true regarding any historical account, Sinai too relies on mass witnesses as its validation. But had it simply been Moses’ word alone, or the word of small groups or individuals as is the case with literally all other religions, this does not provide proof, for motive to lie can be found in small groups. Only with mass witnesses do we know for certain that an event transpired. This was the single time in history where God revealed Himself to man.
In the end, Judaism is the only religion possessing proof of divine communication. All other religions are based on blind faith. Don’t lie to yourself. Follow what is proven. For this is God’s will in orchestrating this singular event.