Return to the place
And know it truly
For the first time
Who do you approach
What things do you say?
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After all the translation and explication, we return to the place we were before. Sinai revised, in a chiastic closing that is also a transformation. “Everything that God says we will do” becomes “we will do and we will hear.” We repeat the pattern of juxtaposing the revelation at Sinai with the creation of the altar. But whereas before, the laws of the altar were cerebral, dealing with stones, respect, nakedness, this altar deals with blood and the animals that played so central a role in the preceding chapter; it is an altar built of twelve stones, representing the twelve tribes of Israel, and is run not by modest priests, but by boisterous youths. This presentation of Sinai bears the marks of the human realm. This time, the overwhelming voice belongs to Israel: “and the entire people answered with one voice.” Aaron, his sons, the seventy elders, and the “youth of Israel” all play a part.
The carefully maintained boundaries begin to disintegrate, as the nobility of Israel see the “eating fire (esh ohelet) of God” and “eat and drink.
Moses, however, is even more starkly “alone” (levado) against the backdrop. He “ascends to God” and “is there.” If for Israel the Sabbath was redefined as a day of rest for the vulnerable parts of society, for Moses it is here defined as utter communion: “and the cloud covered the mountain six days, and He called to Moses on the seventh day.” The chapter ends with Moses swallowed in the mists for forty days. A consummation—in both senses of the word—but will the nation be able to survive without their liminal conduit?]