In our Torah portion for this week, Moses gives a series of exhortations to the people to obey the voice of the Lord. In chapters 4 and 5 he recounts the historical event that took place at Mt. Sinai, forty years earlier, when God revealed Himself to the people and gave them the Torah. Then in chapter six, he exhorts them to love God exclusively and to demonstrate that love through complete fidelity to the way of life that He has given them. We are all familiar with a portion of chapter six (The Shema 6:4-9) because we recite it every Shabbat in our service. In our d'rash this week we want to focus on the historical account of the Sinai event. Moses places great emphasis on the fact that God revealed Himself in fire, cloud, and thick darkness. They did not see God Himself but only heard His voice from the mountain. “You came near and stood at the foot of the mountain, and the mountain burned with fire to the very heart of the heavens: darkness, cloud, and thick gloom. Then the LORD spoke to you from the midst of the fire; you heard the sound of words, but you saw no form—only a voice” (Deuteronomy 4:11-12). Then he says, “Has any people heard the voice of God speaking from the midst of the fire, as you have heard it, and survived?” (4:33). “Out of the heavens He let you hear His voice to discipline you, and on earth He let you see His great fire, and you heard His words from the midst of the fire.” (4:36). “The LORD our God made a covenant with us at Horeb. The LORD did not make this covenant with our fathers, but with us, with all those of us alive here today. The LORD spoke to you face to face at the mountain from the midst of the fire.” (5:2-4). Then after Moses recounts the Ten Commandments, he reminds the people that “These words the LORD spoke to all your assembly at the mountain from the midst of the fire, of the cloud and of the thick gloom, with a great voice, and He added no more. He wrote them on two tablets of stone and gave them to me.” (5:22). Then Moses reminds them that the people were afraid of the fire and would not go near because they thought they would die. They realized that it was a miracle that they were still alive after hearing the voice of God. But, they were afraid that if they heard His voice any longer that they would die. (See 5:23-26).
Moses makes much of the fact that God spoke to the people in the midst of fire, clouds, and darkness so that they would not make graven images but also so they would realize that God is real and that they had a visitation from God in their midst. They saw His glory.
Moses could have simply said that God gave them the Torah at Sinai and that they needed to obey it. But that is not what he does. He describes and emphasizes the presence of God on the mountain. May I suggest that Moses does this so that the people realize that God has taken the initiative and entered the physical world in a way that they could experience His presence and that He communicated with them…He spoke to them. What did He say? He gave them the Torah…. He gave them wisdom and understanding. He gave them a way of life. It came directly from the voice of God to Israel. The event was so spectacular that they became fearful and sent Moses into the cloud and he returned with a glow on his face. We learn from this that the reality of God did not initiate in the heart of the people but rather the invisible God manifested Himself to the people on the mountain. The invisible became visible. However, as A.J. Heschel has said, "to reveal, God must conceal…to impart wisdom God must hide His power." God was in the fire, but the people were not consumed. (This is like Moses' experience at the burning bush.) What a demonstration of love! God was seeking after the people. He desired to be amid Israel and for Israel to respond to Him. This is the uniqueness of Israel. The one and only God entered their midst, and they lived. He imparted to them the Torah (life!) through Moses. Now forty years later, on the plains of Moab, Moses reminds them of their calling. He said that the covenant is made with them and that God is with them, and therefore as they obey His word and love Him with every ounce of their being, the presence of God is with them and this would be their testimony to the nations.
When we think about the coming of the Messiah, we are so thankful that God again came amid Israel but this time it was the incarnation in Yeshua. He is the voice of God in the flesh. He embodies the Torah. As a result of His death and resurrection, we can have the Ruach HaKodesh indwell us so that we can experience His presence within us. Today Yeshua is at the right hand of the Father and because of our connection to Him we live in both the visible and invisible presence of God. We could say that in Messiah Yeshua we are able to enter the cloud-like Moses did, but unlike Moses, we do not have to leave His presence, even as we go about our daily affairs. In one sense God is in the midst of the fire within us…the fire of God dwells in our heart. But we could also say that in this life we see lots of fire, clouds, and thick darkness all around us. It can look very fearful and gloomy. Let us always remember that God is in the midst of the fire! He is in the thick darkness and clouds. He is always there whatever we may see in this life. His desire is always to be close to us. In Messiah Yeshua may we realize that nothing can separate us from His presence! This is the heart of God that He may dwell in our midst and that we would manifest His presence as we live the Torah way of life (do the right thing!). May we always be aware of this and recognize that transformation takes place when we live in this realization. “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:18).