Where Was the Law Given?
In the Wilderness or in the Land of Israel?
According to tradition, the Law was given to Israel in the wilderness on Mount Sinai after God had redeemed the Israelites from Egyptian bondage and after Israel’s first prophet, Moses, ascended the heights of Mount Sinai, where he received the tablets of the Law from God. This is why the Torah, the Law, is called also “the Torah of Moses,” as we find, for example, in the verses that seal the prophetic corpus as a whole: “Be mindful of the Teaching [the Torah] of My servant Moses, whom I charged at Horeb with laws and rules for all Israel” (Malachi 3:22). In chapter 9 we saw how another tradition beside the one of the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai existed, though it was pushed off to the margins and even silenced: the tradition about receiving the Law at Marah, a site also located in the wilderness.
The notion of the Law being given in the wilderness following the Exodus from Egypt served two aims. First, it set up an equation whereby the miracles that God performed in order to redeem the Israelites from Egyptian slavery obligated their subsequent obedience to His laws. It is no surprise that the first of the Ten Commandments states: “I the LORD am your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, the house of bondage” (Exodus 20:2 = Deuteronomy 5:6). Following this declaration comes the rest of the commandments, beginning with the charge to recognize only the God of Israel, “You shall have no other gods besides Me” (Exodus 20:3 = Deuteronomy 5:7), and to uphold all of His commands.