Shiur #17: The History of the Resting of the Shekhina(Part VII) - Mount Moriya and Mount Sinai

  • Rav Yitzchak Levy
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Yeshivat Har Etzion


Shiur #17: The History of the Resting of the Shekhina

(Part VII)

Mount Moriya and Mount Sinai


Rav Yitzchak Levi



            In the previous lectures, I discussed the aspects of the Akeida that allude to the Mikdash that would eventually be built on Mount Moriya, as well as their significance for future generations. To complete the topic, in this lecture I will discuss the relationship between the Akeida and the revelation at Mount Sinai, and the significance of the fact that Mount Moriya remained concealed until the days of David.




As we saw in previous lectures, Chazal (Pirkei De-Rabbi Eliezer, chap. 31) and the Rambam (Hilkhot Bet Ha-Bechira 2:1-2) note the continuous tradition of Divine service on Mount Moriya, which began with Adam, continued with Kayin and Hevel and Noach, and reached its climax at the Akeida.


After the Akeida, there is no further explicit reference to Mount Moriya during the period of the patriarchs[1] or Yaakov's children. The children of Israel follow Yosef down to Egypt, they leave Egypt after years of affliction and servitude, the waters of the Red Sea part before them, and after fifty days they arrive at Mount Sinai, where they merit a most powerful revelation: the giving of the Torah and the receiving of the two Tablets of the Law. Following the receiving of the second set of tablets, the Mishkan is built in the heart of the camp of Israel as a direct but concealed continuation of God's revelation to His people at Mount Sinai.


Following the building of the Mishkan, the people of Israel set off on their journey to Eretz Yisrael. The Mishkan continues to move from place to place during the forty years that Israel wanders in the wilderness and for another four hundred years in Eretz Yisrael, during which time the Mishkan is established in various places – Gilgal, Shilo, Nov, and Giv'onuntil it finally reaches Mount Moriya.


Parallel to the Mishkan's wanderings, the people of Israel are transformed from a set of individuals into a people. This process begins at Mount Sinai, with the revelation of the Torah and mitzvot. With Israel's entry into the land, the Mishkan's return to Mount Moriya depends on the establishment of a permanent monarchy, which only takes shape in the days of David and Shlomo. The revelation at the time of the Akeida already taught us about the unique qualities of Mount Moriya, but the concealment of the place teaches that its renewed revelation requires effort, searching, and seeking – as eventually occurred during the days of David.




We find an allusion to the connection between Mount Sinai and Jerusalem in a prophecy of Yirmiyahu:


Go and cry in the ears of Jerusalem, saying, "Thus says the Lord: I remember in your favor the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride, when you did go after Me in the wilderness, in a land that was not sown." (Yirmiyahu 2:2)


            The prophet cries out in the ears of Jerusalem about Israel's devotion in the wilderness, which alludes to the revelation at Mount Sinai and Israel's receiving the Torah.[2] In a certain sense, the revelation at Mount Sinai continued through the Mishkan until its final stop - Mount Moriya in Jerusalem. The prophet rises at the end of the first Temple period and cries out in the ears of Jerusalem about Israel's devotion at the starting point - Mount Sinai.


            The mishna at the end of tractate Ta'anit (4:8) clearly notes the connection between the giving of the Torah and the building of the Mikdash on Mount Moriya:


Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel said: No days were as good for Israel as the fifteenth of Av and Yom Kippur, on which the daughters of Jerusalem would go out in borrowed white garments… and dance in the vineyards…

And so it states: "Go forth, O daughters of Zion, and behold king Shelomo with the crown with which his mother crowned him on the day of his wedding, and on the day of the gladness of his heart" (Shir Ha-shirim 3:8): "On the day of his wedding" – this is the giving of the Torah; "and on the day of the gladness of his heart" – this is the building of the Mikdash, which will speedily be rebuilt in our day, Amen.


            Both the receiving of the second set of tablets and the dedication of the first Temple took place on Yom Kippur (see Rashi, Shemot 34:29; Mo'ed Katan 9a; Rashi, I Melakhim 8:65). Defining the giving of the Torah as "the day of his wedding" and the building of the Mikdash as "the day of the gladness of his heart" expresses the fact that the giving of the Torah, which marks the beginning of God's covenant with His people, was a preparation for the building of the Mikdash, which symbolizes the completion of this covenant and its establishment in God's permanent sanctuary.


            The connection between the Torah given at Mount Sinai and the Mikdash on Mount Moriya finds expression in many realms:[3] the placing of a Torah scroll in the ark; the Torah scroll in the Temple courtyard; the hakhel ceremony at the end of the shemitta year, which constitutes a reenactment of what happened at Sinai; and the meeting with the leading Torah authorities of the generation in the Mikdash. It is not by chance that one of the interpretations of the word "Moriya" connects it to hora'a – instruction: "A mountain from which instruction goes out to Israel" (Ta'anit 15a).


            Another connection between the Torah and the Mikdash is the element of fear that is characteristic of both of them. The Torah explicitly connects the two fears in its command: "You shall keep My Sabbaths, and revere My sanctuary, I am the Lord" (Vayikra 26:2). As Moshe says Devarim: "The day that you stood before the Lord your God in Chorev, when the Lord said to me, 'Gather me the people together, and I will make them hear My words, that they may learn to fear Me all the days that they shall live upon the earth, and that they may teach their children'" (Devarim 4:10).


            The two mountains are explicitly connected in Tehillim 68 as well:


O mountain of God, O mountain of Bashan; O high peaked mountain, mountain of Bashan: why do you look askance, O high peaked mountain, at the mountain which God has desired for His abode? Truly the Lord will dwell there forever. (Tehillim 68:15-16)


            Even though the entire psalm deals with Mount Sinai and the revelation that took place there, the mountain that God desired for His abode and upon which He will dwell forever is Mount Moriya. This is the way the psalm is understood by Midrash Tehillim:


"The mountain which God has desired for His abode." My sole desire is for Sinai, which is the lowest of all of you. As it is stated: "I dwell on high and in a holy place, yet with Him also is of a contrite and humble spirit" (Yeshayahu 57:15). And it is written: "Though the Lord be high, yet He takes note of the lowly; but the haughty He knows from afar" (Tehillim 138:6). You might say that He will dwell there for all generations. Therefore, the verse states: "Truly the Lord will dwell there forever;" He returned His Shekhina to heaven.

And from where did Sinai come? Rabbi Yose said: It was detached from Mount Moriya, like challa from dough, from the place where Yitzchak our father was bound. The Holy One, blessed be He, said: Since their father Yitzchak was bound there, it is fitting that his children should receive the Torah on it. And from where [do we know] that in the future it will return to its place? As it is stated: "The mountain of the Lord's house shall be established on the top of the mountains" (Yeshayahu 2:2) – these are Tavor, Carmel, Sinai and Zion. "He-harim [the mountains]" – five mountains [heh harim], that is to say, like the number of the five books of the Torah.


            The midrash picturesquely portrays the inner connection between the two mountains, Mount Sinai and Mount Moriya. The giving of the Torah, which began on Mount Sinai, continues on Mount Moriya. The midrash describes the distinction between the mountains as the separation of challa from dough, Mount Sinai being likened to the portion that is set aside and offered to God. The revelation at Mount Sinai and the giving of the Torah constitute a model for the Mikdash; Israel's assembly at the foot of the mountain is similar to their gathering in Jerusalem and in the Mikdash on the pilgrimage festivals, and Sinai's sanctity and status at the time of the revelation is similar to the sanctity and status of the Mikdash.


            Moshe was commanded regarding the building of the Mishkan on Mount Sinai (especially according to the Ramban, who maintains that this command was given during the first forty days that Moshe was on the mountain), as is emphasized several times in the Torah:


According to all that I show you, the pattern of the tabernacle and the pattern of all its vessels, even so shall you make it. (Shemot 25:9)


And you shall make a candlestick of pure gold… And look that you make them after their pattern, which was shown you in the mountain. (ibid. vv. 31, 40)


And you shall make an altar of shittim wood… Hollow with boards shall you make it. As it was shown you in the mountain, so shall they make it. (ibid. 27:1, 8)


            The source of many laws governing the Mikdash is the revelation at Sinai; these include laws regarding those who perform the service, the sacrifices, and the details of the sacrificial order, the laws governing entry, the realms of sanctity, the encampment, purity, the Sanhedrin, and the like.[4] It might even be argued that in certain senses the Mikdash began at Mount Sinai.


            The sanctity of Mount Sinai remained in force until the establishment of the Mishkan. The Mishkan is a direct continuation of the revelation at Sinai; the distinction is that the revelation at Sinai was a one-time revelation before all of Israel, whereas the Mishkan was established in the heart of the camp, where the Shekhina dwells in concealment.[5] Thus, the revelation at Sinai continued in the Ohel Mo'ed in the heart of the camp.


            The aggada brought in the Yerushalmi (Sanhedrin 10:2) is instructive about the significance of this connection:


When David came to dig the foundations of the Mikdash, he dug fifteen hundred cubits but did not find the underground waters. Finally, he found a certain shard, and wanted to lift it. It said to him: "You cannot." He said to it: "Why not?" It said to him: "For I am set upon the underground waters." He said to it: "How long are you here?" It said to him: "From the time that God sounded His voice at Sinai, [saying], 'I am the Lord your God.' The earth trembled and sank, and I am set here on the underground waters." Even so, he did not listen to him. As soon as he lifted it up, the groundwater rose and was about to flood the world. Achitofel was standing there… David said: "The wise man who knows how to stop this and fails to do so, in the end he will be strangled. He [ Achitofel] said what he said and stopped [the water]. David began to recite a song of Ma'alot, a song of hundred-risings [me'a olot], for each hundred cubits he recited a song…


            The shard that holds back the waters from the time of the revelation at Sinai symbolizes the laws of the Torah. The source of the Mikdash, the foundations of which David wished to dig, lies in the laws given at Sinai,[6] both in the dimension of the revelation, and in the dimension of the orderly system of Divine laws and morality, which allow us to deal with the eruption of the underground water.[7]


            We can summarize, then, by saying that the uniqueness of Mount Moriya as a place that has the potential for a special connection to God was known from the time of the creation of the world until the days of Avraham. After the Akeida, the place fell from the consciousness of the patriarchs and Yaakov's children; in the meantime, at the time of the exodus from Egypt, the giving of the Torah, and the construction of the Mishkan, its place was seized by Mount Sinai, whose special standing was already revealed through the burning bush).


From then on, for four hundred and eighty years, there was a gradual process of return to Mount Moriya, until the building of the Mikdash by Shlomo. Mount Moriya accompanied the process of transforming the people of Israel from a set of individuals into a collective. The initial solidification of Israel into a people was around the Torah, and with it they went out with God into the wilderness and afterwards into Eretz Yisrael. Owing to the fact that the location of the place had become concealed, it became necessary to search for the mountain and seek it out. Only after a permanent monarchy was established in Israel was the mountain once again revealed and the Mikdash built upon it.




Despite the many connections between the two mountains, there are many important differences between them. The primary difference between them is that the sanctity of Mount Sinai was limited to the time of the revelation, and after that it terminated: "When the horn sounds long, they shall come up to the mountain" (Shemot 19:13). A baraita in Ta'anit (21b) comments as follows:


We have learned: Rabbi Yose says: "A person is not honored by his place, but rather a person honors his place. For we find regarding Mount Sinai that as long as the Shekhina rested upon it, the Torah said: 'Neither let the flocks nor herds feed before that mountain' (Shemot 34:3); but when the Shekhina departed from it, the Torah said: 'When the horn sounds long, they shall come up to the mountain.' And similarly we find regarding the Tent of Meeting in the wilderness that as long as it stood, the Torah said: 'That they put out of the camp everyone with tzara'at' (Bamidbar 5:2); but when the parokhet was rolled up, zavin and lepers were permitted to enter therein."


            As opposed to the sanctity of Mount Sinai and the Mishkan, the sanctity of Mount Moriya is eternal, and it did not terminate with the destruction of the Mikdash. Mount Moriya was already designated for the resting of the Shekhina at the time that the world was created, and from the moment that it became known and the Mikdash was built on it during the days of David and Shelomo, its sanctity remained intact: "Because the sanctity of the Mikdash and Jerusalem is because of the Shekhina, and the Shekhina is never canceled" (Rambam, Hilkhot Bet Ha-Bechira 6:16).


            This essential difference between temporary revelation and permanent revelation reflects other differences between the two revelations:


1)                      The revelation at Mount Sinai was a most noble revelation, unique in human history, but it did not leave an impression in the material world. The revelation at Mount Moriya was less noble, but it left an impression in the material world.[8]


2)                      At Mount Sinai, the initiative, the Divine appearance and its contents came exclusively from God; man's participation in the event was limited to listening to the word of God, accepting the Torah and internalizing the revelation. In the Mishkan, and afterwards in the Mikdash, man's participation was necessary, both in seeking out the place ("there you shall seek Him, at His dwelling, and there you shall come" [Devarim 12:5]), and in building the structure ("And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them" [Shemot 25:8])).


3)                      Despite the correspondence between the zones of sanctity at Mount Sinai and in the Mikdash – the similarity between Moshe, who goes up to the top of the mountain, and the High Priest who goes into the Holy of Holies – the two places are different with respect to the standing of the people of Israel. At Mount Sinai, the people of Israel stand at the foot of the mountain, whereas at Mount Moriya, they are at its top. Israel's standing at the foot of the mountain symbolizes their smallness following the exodus from Egypt when they came to receive the Torah; in a certain sense, the revelation from on High forces them to accept the Torah, to the extent that Chazal say: "God arched the mountain over them like a tank, and said to them: 'If you accept the Torah, fine, but if not, there will you be buried'" (Avoda Zara 2b). At Mount Moriya, on the other hand, the people of Israel are on the mountain, which symbolizes their standing as full partners in the Temple service. This partnership was not possible at Mount Sinai, when God first began to reveal Himself as king; at that point, it was only Moshe who could go up.


4)                      The sanctity of Mount Sinai is absolute, based on the revelation, whereas the sanctity of Mount Moriya is based on the collective tradition. Thus writes the author of the Meshekh Chokhma (Shemot 12:11):


Now it must be explained at length that all the sanctified places are not based on the Law, but rather on the nation and its roots. For example, Mount Moriya, from which Adam was created, and there Avraham offered Yitzchak. And so, too, it was chosen by a prophet. For the Law merely says: "the place that the Lord shall choose." And Mount Sinai, the place of the Law, once the Shekhina departed from it – the flocks and the herds could go up!… Jerusalem and all of Eretz Yisrael and Mount Moriya are built on their relationship to our forefathers, the roots of our faith, and on the nation's unity with its roots…


            And in his commentary to Shemot 32:19:


About this Moshe cried out like a crane: "Do you imagine that I am anything or that I have sanctity without the commandment of God, to the extent that in my absence you made for yourselves a calf! God forbid! I too am human like you, and the Torah does not depend upon me, and even had I not returned, the Torah would remain without change, God forbid." And the proof is that during the thirty eight years that Israel was rebuked in the wilderness, God did not speak to Moshe (Yerushalmi, Ta'anit 3:4). And do not imagine that the Mikdash and the Mishkan are holy in themselves, God forbid! God, blessed be He, dwells among His children, but if "they like Adam have transgressed the covenant" (Hoshea 6:7), all holiness is removed from them, and they become like profane vessels. Robbers come and profane it, and Titus enters the Holy of Holies with a prostitute, and suffers no harm (Gittin 56b), because its sanctity has been removed. And what is more, even the Tablets [of the Law] – "the writing of God" – are not holy in themselves, but only for your sake. And when the bride plays the harlot in her bridal chamber, they are regarded as earthen pitchers. They have no sanctity in and of themselves, but only for your sake when you observe them. The bottom line: There is nothing holy in the world, worthy of service and submission. Only God, blessed be His name, is holy in His necessary existence, and praise and service are comely for Him. All holiness follows from the command that the Creator gave to build a Mishkan in order to offer sacrifices to God alone. And the keruvim, God forbid, are not worthy of worship… It is like a captain who wants to know the direction in which the wind is blowing and builds a flag pole; so too the Creator, blessed be He, created signs and indications to make it known whether Israel is performing the will of God, when they face each other (see Bava Batra 99a). And therefore, "there is nothing in the ark but the tablets" (I Melakhim 8:9) and a Torah scroll (Bava Batra 14a). The keruvim are outside on the kaporet, not in the ark…


            That is to say: God alone is holy, and it is wrong to attribute independent sanctity to anything else. It is only by way of Divine command that objects receive sanctity. The sanctity of Mount Sinai is founded on revelation and determined from on High; therefore, the moment that the revelation ended, the sanctity also terminated. As for Jerusalem and Mount Moriya, their sanctity is based on the roots of the nation and their relationship to our forefathers – and it receives Divine confirmation.[9]


5)                      The revelation and giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai involved private and personal communion between Israel and God, at which time the people of Israel accepted God's lordship. To Mount Moriya, on the other hand, all the nations will eventually stream and accept upon themselves the kingdom of God, as the prophets prophesied in various different formulations (see Yeshayahu 2, Mikha 4, Yoel 4, Zekharya 14).[10] Mount Sinai was the beginning; Mount Moriya was the climax. Owing to the mission that Israel received at Sinai to serve as a priestly kingdom and a holy nation, the people of Israel will eventually bring the entire world to recognize the kingdom of God. At Mount Sinai, only the people of Israel begin to develop their connection to God; at Mount Moriya, from where the world was created, the Mikdash was built, which will eventually serve the entire world.[11]


This is the foundation for establishing the Mikdash at Mount Moriya; a combination of the beginning and the end. The original objective to bring redemption to the entire world underwent a change in the wake of the sins of Adam and the generations that followed. God chose Avraham to be the father of the nation that would worship Him, and through them the entire world would come to serve Him. Mount Moriya expresses this connection between the original objective at the time of the creation and the ultimate end; the entire world will repent, accept the kingdom of God, and recognize that "the Torah will go forth out of Zion and the word of God from Jerusalem."




We tried to analyze the connections between Mount Sinai and Mount Moriya, to examine the similarities between them as well as the differences, and to understand their common essence, despite the differences. We seem to be dealing with a single system that began with the revelation at Mount Sinai, continued with the Mishkan –  a sort of "moving Sinai" – and finally, after many stops, reached Mount Moriya.


Mount Sinai was the starting point, the beginning of the Divine connection with the people of Israel through the revelation and the giving of the Torah. This supernal revelation was unique to Israel, and owing to the purely Divine nature of its occurrence – without any human intervention – its hold on the material world was naught, and it was transient; the people of Israel were not to remain at Mount Sinai. The revelation at Mount Moriya, in contrast, began at the time of creation, and eventually the entire world will recognize that "the Torah will go forth out of Zion and the word of God from Jerusalem." This revelation, which descends to the material world, is permanent and everlasting, and it is therefore dependent on the seeking of the people of Israel.


The connection between these two mountains is clear, but each has its own uniqueness; together, they form a system of repairing the world, a goal which began with the people of Israel in the wilderness, and will end with the redemption of the entire world on Mount Moriya in Jerusalem.




In the next lecture, I will deal with the figures of Yitzchak and Yaakov and their connection to the Mikdash and the service of God.


(Translated by David Strauss)

[1] Neither Avraham nor Yitzchak return to Mount Moriya, and according to the plain sense of Scripture, Yaakov does not visit Mount Moriya either. Chazal's view that the revelation to Yaakov at Bet-El was at Mount Moriya expresses the idea that this revelation is a phenomenon that is identical to that of the Mikdash, as we explained at length in our lectures on Jerusalem (lectures 1-30, 5765).

[2] We follow here the author of the Metzudot (as opposed to the accepted understanding of most of the midrashim and commentators that the verse refers to Israel's going out into the wilderness).

[3] I expanded upon these connections in the lecture "Mount Moriya – Its Identification and Name" (lecture 8, 5765).

[4] Rav Ariel expanded upon this correspondence in Machzor Ha-Mikdash for Shavu'ot, p. 71 and on.

[5] The Ramban deals at length with this continuity and its significance in his commentary to Shemot 25:2 and in other places.

[6] I expanded upon the connection between the Mikdash and the Torah in the previous lecture. See note 3.

[7] Another aspect of the connection between the two mountains is found in the Aramaic translation of Shir Ha-shirim 1:13, which explains that it was by virtue of the Akeida that atonement was achieved for the sin of the golden calf. Avraham's sacrifice at the Akeida, which reflected his absolute readiness to offer his son, made it possible for Israel to achieve atonement for the sin of the golden calf, which gave expression to extreme distancing from God.

[8] This comment is attributed to Rav Dessler (Ha-Dam Ha-Kadosh, Jerusalem 5717, p. 187).

[9] This explanation is similar to the points raised above. We cite it because of its unique formulation, and because it raises a broader question (which we will not discuss here): what is the source of the sanctity of different places in general.

[10] This point was noted by Hillel Ben Shammai, in "Be-Sod Sinai Vi-Yerushalayim," in: Yerushalayim – Pirkei Hagut U-Masa, Ministry of Education and Culture, Department of Torah Culture, pp. 42-43.

[11] This may be the reason that the higher and more noble revelation, which is not rooted in the material world, remained elevated, temporary, and one-time; it was precisely the lower revelation, rooted in the material world, that proved permanent and enduring. God, as it were, constricted His revelation at Mount Moriya, when He chose it at the beginning of creation, in order to allow for the existence of the world and to bring it to perfection. The revelation at Mount Sinai, in contrast, was by its very nature a supernal and one-time event, which was meant to begin the process of solidifying the people around the giving of the Torah; there the revelation was full.