Moses received the Torah at Sinai.”
(Ethics of the Fathers 1:1)

Torah means “instruction” or “teaching.” Torah is G‑d’s instruction to Mankind. Incorporated in the Torah are Mitzvot for Jews and seven Mitzvot for Gentiles. A Mitzvah means a commandment, but in a deeper sense means a connection.

A Jew may connect with G‑d in ways, which embrace the entire spectrum of human activity. By giving the Jew commandments/connections, the Jew in his daily life would constantly reflect the Shechinah, emulate the Divine example, and permeate the material with the spiritual.

This is the meaning of the title the Chosen People. But what does this title mean? G‑d chose the Jewish people to be a “Kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6). The word “priest” here does not mean a priest in the literal sense, for not all Jews are descendents of the tribe of Levi, which is the priestly tribe. Rather it refers to a “priestly function.” The function of a priest is to bring people closer to G‑d and to bring G‑d closer to the people. On a national level, the Jewish people would serve as the priest among the nations, or as the prophet Isaiah put it, a “light to the nations.”

This responsibility is fully discharged when the Jewish people are a holy nation; when they conduct themselves with holiness according to G‑d’s commands. The word holy means separate or distinct. The Mitzvot distinguish a Jew and separate him from the rest of the world in every sphere of activity.

When a Jew keeps the Mitzvot he distinguishes himself and becomes connected to the Divine, hence creating an abode for G‑d in this world and thus fulfilling the purpose of creation.

When Moses received the Torah at Sinai he received it body and soul, with the body of the Torah being its codes of law, and the soul of the Torah its mystical dimension. Moses was the perfect receptacle for this wisdom for he was the most humble man who ever lived. He had totally extinguished his ego and was simply a conduit for the Divine will. As the great-grandchildren of Levi; Moses, his brother Aaron, and his sister Miriam were well aware of the mystical tradition and prophetic experience, but Moses was the greatest of the prophets. All others received their prophecy while asleep in the form of a riddle or vision, whereas Moses received his prophecy while awake and with clarity.

This is the meaning of the words “Moses received the Torah at Sinai.” In Hebrew the word for received is “kibel” which is also the root of the word Kabbalah (received) for the mystical tradition like all other parts of Torah received at Sinai is not a product of any human mind, however sophisticated.

Rather, it is a tradition received through revelation. G‑d reached out to Man and not the other way around, revealing to Moses with utmost clarity the Divine wisdom on its most esoteric and most practical levels. Though the finite mind cannot grasp the Infinite, the omnipotent G‑d can create a bridge to Man, and this is the means to connect with the Creator. The Torah instructed the entire Jewish community how to live within the world and yet stay above it. It directed the Jew not to wallow hedonistically in matters of the body, nor to escape ascetically to the spirit, but rather it permits him to embrace the body and elevate all its functions for the Divine purpose. The Jew is to live within the world guided by the principles of the body of the Torah, which acts as a guide through the myriads of everyday mundane activities. Simultaneously, Torah elevates humankind and focuses it on deeper reality, illuminating material darkness with Divine Light.

Though it was at Sinai that the law was given, close examination of the Biblical text will reveal that there were a number of commandments given prior to Sinai. Jacob was commanded not to eat the sciatic nerve and some of the laws of Shabbat were given at Marah. The Passover ritual was proscribed before the Exodus. So what happened at Sinai? What made it such a momentous event?

Firstly, it was the moment that authenticated the communication to Moses. Until that point the Jewish people had witnessed great miracles wrought through G‑d’s servant Moses, yet they had never heard anything directly from G‑d. When the Jewish people heard the Ten Commandments directly from G‑d in the same way that Moses had his communication, their belief in Moses and in all his subsequent revelations was cemented. Secondly, it formally constituted the Jewish people as a nation. It was the transformation from being a group of the descendents of Jacob, the “Bnai Yisrael,” into an entity bound eternally by the Mitzvot–a people covenanted.

But Kabbalistically, the revelation at Sinai was the breakage of a barrier. In the words of the Midrash, prior to Sinai it was decreed that the upper realms could not descend below, and the lower realms could not ascend above. At Sinai the upper realms descended below and the lower realms ascended above.

The meaning of this cryptic Midrash is the following: prior to Sinai there was a divide between the body and the soul, between the physical and the spiritual, between earth and heaven. It was not possible to endow material objects with innate spirituality. The Mitzvot performed by the Patriarchs prior to the giving of the Torah were primarily in their spiritual dimension.

The spiritual elite were endowed with powerful souls and minds which were fully aware of the mystical dimension, and yet had not integrated that system in a down-to-earth practice for all Mankind. Sinai changed everything.

G‑d revealed to Moses his plan for the fusion of heaven with the Earth and the material with the spiritual. From then on the barrier between these two seemingly opposed realms were not to be two separate entities but fused into one, and once again, the Shechinah dwelled amongst Men. G‑d then instructed Moses to construct the Tabernacle, which would act as a house for the Divine. Located in the innermost area of the Tabernacle, known as the Holy of Holies, was the Ark which contained the stone tablets upon which the Ten Commandments were engraved.

It was at this place where G‑d spoke directly to Moses. One may wonder the purpose of creating a specific place for G‑d to dwell when G‑d fills all of Creation. However, the wording of G‑d’s instructions reveals a profound secret regarding the Tabernacle. G‑d commands Moses, “Make a sanctuary for Me so that I may dwell in them.” The use of the plural “them” alludes to the structure’s purpose which is to resensitize the people to G‑d’s presence.

Another lesson from the construction of the Tabernacle and Ark is one that can be applied to many lives today, and one which represents the macrocosmic teaching above on a microcosmic level. On the top of the Ark there were two figures, a male and a female. When there was distance between G‑d and Man, the figures turned away from each other. But when G‑d was pleased with the people, the figures faced one another, and there the Shechinah rested. This whole imagery represents the family unit, which is the basis of community and life itself, and a marriage filled with Torah values, morality, and peace will merit the presence of the Shechinah.