Commentary by Dr. Gerhard Falk


Shavuoth - The Feast of Weeks

Tonight, the evening of June 5, through the day of June 7, we celebrate one of our major Holy Days. It was on this day that the Children of Israel received the Ten Commandments, a story recorded two times in the Torah. The Ten Commandments may be found in Chapter XX, verse 1 of Shemoth, or Exodus, and a second time in Devarim, or Deuteronomy, Chapter V, verse 6.

We are told that the Ten Commandments were revealed at Mt. Sinai. That mountain has been identified as a mountain in the Egyptian Sinai peninsula because the mother of the Roman emperor Constantine I, Helena, claimed she had discovered Mt. Sinai in the Sinai desert.

The trouble with the assertion that Mt. Sinai is located in that desert is that there is no archeological evidence that the mountain on which the Ten Commandments were given is really located in that traditional location.

Of course, ever since the development of the so-called “higher criticism” of the Torah which began in the19th century a good number of followers of that movement have claimed that the Torah is only a legend and nothing told there really existed. By now, that view has been well discredited because the past fifty years of archeological research in Israel has shown that many sites and events mentioned in the Torah do exist and did in fact take place.

Nevertheless, there is not now any conclusive archeological evidence concerning the exodus or the travel of the Israelites to the site of Mt. Sinai, unless Mt. Sinai was not the mountain in that peninsula but a mountain located in Arabia.

If you will look at Exodus 3:1 you will find that here Mt. Horeb, or Sinai, is located in Midian. Mt. Horeb is called “the mountain of God.” This deals with the flight of Moses from his homeland, Egypt, to the desert to escape the consequences of killing a slave driver.

Evidence that Mt. Horeb or Sinai was really in Arabia is the phrase Yom Soph, used to describe the sea which the children of Israel crossed after their flight from Egypt. In fact, the destruction of the Egyptian army which came after the Israelites had left Egypt would hardly have been possible at the “sea of reeds” or the “red sea” or the “bitter lakes” because it is not deep nor clear. However, at the Gulf of Aqaba, which is much deeper and which holds an underwater land bridge, such a possibility exists. Moreover, the Hebrew phrase Yom Suf or Sea of Reeds could have been Yam Soph, meaning sea at the end or land’s end. If that is so, then clearly the place the Children of Israel crossed would have been the Gulf of Aqaba, leading directly into Arabia.

There are also some wells in the area of the Arabian peninsula where the Israelites would have arrived from the Gulf of Aqaba which are extremely bitter. The Torah tells us that the Israelites camped in the wilderness of Shur and that they could not drink the water because the water at Marah was so bitter. (Exodus 15:22-23).

The Bedouins in Arabia call a mountain in Arabia the Mountain of Moses. This mountain, not Sinai, is located near twelve clear water springs. Now look at Exodus 15:27. “Then they came to Elim where there were twelve springs of water.....").

In a flat area at the base of the Mountain of Moses there are rocks containing ancient drawings of a bull god. This reminds us of the golden calf.

Of course we know that the Israelites entered Israel from the Arabian side now called Jordan. Therefore, they must have been east of the Jordan after their forty years of wandering in the desert.

The failure of archeologists to find evidence of the giving of the Ten Commandments or the exodus so far means very little since so many other Biblical events have been proved after all.

What is important to us today is not whether this or that belief has been proved to be scientifically accurate but that the greatest Jewish contribution to man’s stay on this earth has been the Torah and the ethics it imposes on all mankind, not just Jews. Nevertheless, we are “a light onto the nations”, which many have resented for many years. Jean Paul Sartre, the French philosopher, wrote that antagonism to Jews is in the end hatred of the moral law which the haters don’t want to live with. Look at Eric Rudolph, the Nazi just apprehended for bombing and killing two people and wounding over one hundred. This Nazi claims the holocaust never happened. The Arab propagandists say the same thing. Obviously, the enemies of Israel are also the enemies of ethics, decency and morality in this world. Therefore they attack the originator of all of man’s ethical achievements, Israel.

Shavuoth is this Friday and Saturday. If you can’t make it on Friday, come to “shul” on Saturday and enjoy the Torah reading and the singing and the company of your friends and family as we celebrate Shavuoth together.

Shalom u’vracha.

Dr. Gerhard Falk is the author of numerous publications, including Grandparents:  A New Look at the Supporting Generation (with Dr. Ursula A., Falk, 2002), & Man's Ascent to Reason (2003).

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