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“And all of the people saw the thunder” Exodus 20:15
The deep lessons of the Torah text are conveyed in the seemingly most insignificant details. Here we are — the verse following the revelation at Sinai — and there is a big mistake. You don’t see thunder — you hear it.
This is not the only time that the Torah confuses its use of senses. At the momentous moment when Isaac blesses his son Jacob he comments: “See the smell of my son is like the smell of a field” (Genesis 27:27).
When Moses first goes to Pharaoh to ask him to set the people free, the result is increased labour and hardship. The people complain to Moses, saying he has made them smell bad in the eyes of Pharaoh and of the Egyptians. (Exodus 5:21). But surely we do not smell with our eyes.
What these verses share in common is that they all describe moments of great emotional impact. Be it awe, anger or amazement — sometimes we are so overwhelmed by our experience that our senses go into overload and we do not perceive properly. The Torah communicates this by using the wrong sense.
The revelation at Sinai was the most wondrous and significant moment in the history of the Jewish people — the experience on which the whole Torah rests. The Torah communicates this to us in many ways, by telling us how the people stood far from the mountain and prepared themselves for three days; how they changed their clothes and how they asked Moses to speak instead of them.
But the real power of the experience is communicated in the little things. The real awe is felt at the moment you start to see the thunder. God’s wonders are still manifest in the world today. Are we as open to seeing the thunder?