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Divine Intervention Once and For All

A brief thought on another Passover-related topic:   God took command of history at the time of the Exodus and giving of the Torah at Sinai. This was the one and only time He “came to us.” Thereafter, we would have to “come to Him.” We thus have two types of “religious encounters” – one from Above, and one from Below; one singular and temporary, the other continual and permanent.   This idea is expressed in the article, Two Types of Religious Encounter, by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. He describes in detail the differences between the two. I have provided below some examples. I have also comipiled a chart to summarize the points.

Here are examples of the differences between the two types of encounters:

The Torah says that at Sinai the Israelites heard a “great voice velo yasaf.”(Dev 5:18). Two contradictory interpretations are given of this phrase. One reads it as “a great voice that was never heard again,” the other as “a great voice that did not cease”—i.e., a voice that was always heard again. Both are true. The first refers to the Written Torah, given once and never to be repeated. The second applies to the Oral Torah, whose study has never ceased.

In Judaism, the natural is greater than the supernatural, in the sense that an “awakening from below” is more powerful in transforming us, and longer-lasting in its effects, than is an “awakening from above.” That was why the second tablets survived intact, while the first did not. Divine intervention changes nature, but it is human initiative—our approach to G‑d—that changes us.

 Here is a chart I have compiled comparing and contrasting the points made by Rabbi Sacks:

 Religious Encounter fromAboveReligious Encounter from Below
Authorship of TabletsFirst tablets – made by God.Second tablets – joint work of God and Moses.
Paradox of TabletsMore holy but did not remain intact.Less holy but stayed whole.
Character“Spectacular and supernatural”“All too human”
Role of peopleNo human effort – people are passive.People take initiative – horizons are expanded.
Focus of changeTemporarily transforms our external world.Permanently transforms our internal world.
Examples in battlePassivity against Egyptians at Red Sea: God fought for us.Active defense against Amalekites:  Joshua ordered to lead.
Proof of duration of changeWithin three days of this battle, the Israelites began complaining. Battles fought for us do not change us.After this war, we never complained again. Battles we fight for ourselves do change us.
Examples in revelationMount SinaiTabernacle
Type of sanctityTemporaryPermanent
Proof of duration of sanctity40 days after Sinai, we made the Golden Calf.No more idols for duration of desert journey.
Type of TorahTorah shebiktav: writtenTorah she-be’al peh: oral
Authorship of TorahWord of God – no human contribution.Word of God as interpreted by mind of man.
Interpretation of “a great voicevelo yasaf” – Deut. 5:18A great voice that was never heard again, i.e. the Written Torah, given once and never repeated.A great voice that was always heard again, i.e. the Oral Torah, whose study has never ceased.
Effect on Moshe RabenuHe was passive – he simply received the tablets. Nothing in him changed.He was active – he carved the stone on which God’s words were to be engraved. His face became radiant.
Bottom lineDivine intervention changes nature.Human initiative – our approach to God – changes us.