Shavuot: The Origins of Sinai



Sinai is perhaps the most formative event in the history of the world. But what does the word ‘Sinai’ mean?

Even though Sinai signifies a geographic location, its name surely has meaning. Even in the English language, names of locations are not arbitrary; they are connected to some factor, feature or event that caused this particular location to be called by its name.

This is certainly the case for Hebrew names, which reflect the core soul of the location called by that name. The name Jerusalem (Yerushalayim) is a portmanteau of two Hebrew words, yirah, meaning ‘awe’ or ‘vision,’ and shalaim, meaning ‘peace’ or ‘completeness.’

Tel Aviv, literally meaning ‘Hill of Spring,’ was chosen from Ezekiel 3:15: Then I came to them of the captivity at Tel Aviv, that lived by the river Chebar, and to where they lived; and I sat there overwhelmed among them seven days.

New York was named after the English Duke of York and Albany (and the brother of England’s King Charles II) in 1664 when the region called New Amsterdam was taken from the Dutch.

So, how did Mount Sinai, the place where the Torah was given this very day 3327 years ago, receive its name and why? Simply speaking, would it not make sense to call it Mount Torah?

The plot thickens when we realize that Sinai comes from the word sinah, meaning hostility or animosity. What could possibly be the connection between the beauty of the Torah at Sinai and the (seemingly) ugliness of hatred?

The answer, like Sinai itself, will change your life.


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