Where in the Wilderness Did Israel
Receive the Torah?
The giving of the Torah at Sinai was an event of tremendous magnitude. With “thunder and lightning… and a very loud blast of the horn” (Exodus 19:16), the Sinai tradition silenced competing traditions concerning the location of the giving of the Torah — the Law — to Israel. Indeed, more than one site claimed to be the place where Israel received its Torah during the people’s wandering in the wilderness.
The story of the Israelites’ first stop in the wilderness after crossing the Sea of Reeds contains a mini-giving of the Torah, though we tend to ignore this story in favor of its much more impressive Sinai parallel. For three days the people of Israel wandered in the wilderness without finding water, and with their arrival at Marah (identified as Ein Hawarah, a pool of salty water east of Suez), they were disappointed to discover that the waters were bitter, and so is the place given its name: “They came to Marah, but they could not drink the water of Marah because it was bitter [marim]; that is why it was named Marah” (Exodus 15:23).
The people of Israel are quick to protest. It is the first of numerous complaints that they will voice and that will characterize their stay in the wilderness: “And the people grumbled against Moses, saying ‘What shall we drink?’” (Exodus 15:24). Moses cries out to the Lord, who grants a miraculous solution to the Israelites’ suffering: “And the LORD showed [Moses] a piece of wood; he threw it into the water and the water became sweet” (v. 25). At Marah we witness the first of the