Rabbi Professor Moshe David (Umberto) Cassuto is counted among the great twentieth century Bible scholars. Born and trained in Italy, he escaped the Nazis in 1938 and emigrated to Israel where he taught at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem for the last twelve years of his life. His approach to the study of Bible bridged the traditional with the modern, an approach illustrated by the fact that he successively held the position of Chief Rabbi of Florence and Professor of Hebrew and Literature at the University of Florence.
His keen eye and thoroughgoing knowledge of text is no better demonstrated than by his commentary on the last section of the Book of Exodus. The concluding chapters of the Book of Exodus are generally skimmed by readers since there is little new information conveyed here. It seems to be a rather drab statement on the dutiful completion of the construction work detailed some fifteen chapters earlier. Cassuto, however, sees something far more significant at work.
The concluding verses of the Book of Exodus are phrased in an elevated, poetic style reminiscent of chapter 24, portraying God’s presence at Mount Sinai. Exodus 40:34 reports that a cloud covered the Tent of Meeting. Exodus 24:16 reports that a cloud covered Mount Sinai. Exodus 24:16 describes how Moses was unable to ascend the mountain until the cloud dissipated. Exodus 40:35 describes how Moses was unable to enter the Tent of Meeting as long as the cloud rested upon it. Exodus 40:36 describes how the tent was filled with “the glory of God” and Exodus 24:17 describes how the mountain was covered by “the glory of God.” The similarities of expression, Cassuto claims, is the way the text makes the subtle point that God’s presence in the Tabernacle is akin to God’s presence at Sinai. The ineluctable conclusion to draw is that just as God revealed Himself at Sinai, He will reveal Himself in the future in the sanctuary.
Revelation at Sinai was a unique event in human history. But that should not mean that divine communication was restricted to Sinai alone. Mount Sinai, the geographical location, remains in place. But the experience at Sinai is fungible.