Ask The Rabbi

For the week ending 2 July 2016 / 26 Sivan 5776

Stones of Sinai

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman -
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From: Mordechai

Dear Rabbi,

Is there such a thing as special rocks from Mount Sinai? I heard that there is an image of a bush ingrained in the stones of Sinai that is supposed to be reminiscent of the burning bush. Is there such a connection between Sinai and the bush? Have you actually seen these stones?

Dear Mordechai,

Even though we do not know the exact location of Mount Sinai, there are in fact stones from that general area whose grain does resemble a bush with a single stem from which sprout what looks like thin, dry branches dotted with small spots that look like leaves on the branches.

I have seen these stones, and another interesting aspect is that no matter how you break them, the same bush-like pattern appears on the newly-exposed facets of the stone. It’s as if the bush is ingrained entirely throughout the stone.

Whether or not there is a direct connection between the rock and the event I don't know. However, there is a direct relationship between Sinai and the burning bush of Moshe which in Hebrew is called the “sneh”. The Torah relates that the revelation of G-d to Moshe in the bush actually occurred at Mount Sinai, where G-d in the future would give the Torah to the Jewish People through Moshe: “Moshe…came to the mountain of G-d, to Horeb. An angel of the L-rd appeared to him in a flame of fire from within the bush, and behold, the bush was burning with fire, but the bush was not being consumed” (Ex. 3:1-2).

Rashi explains that this mountain was Mount Sinai, and it was referred to as “the mountain of G-d” based on its being designated for the giving of the Torah in the future. Ramban adds that the burning bush was actually at the peak of the Mount, and was infused with fire just as the top of the Mount Sinai was enveloped with fire when the Torah was given.

In fact, the relationship between Sinai and the burning bush is so direct that certain commentaries explain that Mount Sinai was so called because of the sneh. And together with Moshe, all three are singled out for their humility. The Midrash says that Mount Sinai was designated for receiving the Torah not because of its beauty or grandeur but because it was lowest of mountains. So too is the bush, in which G-d was revealed, the lowest of trees. And Moshe, the man of G-d who received the Torah for the Jewish People, was the most humble of men. And it was because of this great humility that the fire of G-d burned in all three: Sinai, Moshe and the sneh.

In light of this, it makes sense that the qualities of the sneh should be ingrained within the very essence of Sinai, and thus suggests an explanation for the image of the bush in the stones of that place. This correlation is made by the following commentaries:

Rabbi Yaakov Emden writes in Migdal Oz (Zitamar 220b), “The stones of Mount Sinai have on them an image of the sneh; therefore this mountain is called Sinai because of the sneh in which G-d revealed Himself to Moshe. One of the distinguished members of Barcelona brought to me some of these stones and I saw on them the sneh in perfect detail. This is a Heavenly phenomenon, for when I broke the stone in pieces I found the image of the sneh on every side and inner part of the stone, and I marveled at this.”

Similarly, the kabbalistic work Arvei Nachal (Parshat Shemot) notes, “It is known that the image of this sneh appears on all the stones of Mount Sinai, and it is a wondrous sign that this is so, since when any such stone is broken into fragments, each will have an image of the sneh. Indeed these stones from Mount Sinai are a segula for the revelation of the Torah.”

  • Sources: Citations of the Migdal Oz and Arvei Nachal and their translations, provided by Rabbi, and tour-guide of Israel, Pesach Levi

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