back Back

The Essential Character of Torah

By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim

At the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai, the Torah describes how God appeared to Moses and the elders of Israel in the following perplexing verse:

“And they perceived the God of Israel, and beneath His feet was like the forming of a sapphire brick and like the appearance of the heavens for clarity (purity).” (Exodus 24:10)

The symbolism of the sapphire brick formation and the heavenly clarity, described as being under the feet of God, requires explanation. Rashi, based on the Midrash, explains that the sapphire brick formation represents the bricks formed by the Hebrew slaves in Egypt under conditions of back-breaking labor. These bricks were before God at this difficult time for the Hebrews. The heavenly clarity, on the other hand, represents the joy and light of the redemption that was before God at the time of the redemption.

According to this interpretation, the elders perceived God’s feet resting upon the Jewish people’s painful exile and joyous redemption. What is the meaning of this? Why is this the way that God chooses to be perceived, particularly at the giving of the Torah (which took place almost two months after the exodus from Egypt)?

I would suggest the following explanation: God wanted the elders to perceive the essence of what motivated Him to give the Torah to the Jewish people as well as the essential nature of the Torah itself. The essential character of the Torah is not the commandments in and of themselves. The essential character of the Torah is that human beings have a close and intimate relationship with God. The commandments are the tools that create the optimal relationship and connection but are not the purpose in and of themselves.