By Rabbi Shmuel (Richie) Lewis, Rosh Yeshiva
One of the most famous images in the Talmud is that portrayed by Rav Avdimi in Shabbat 88a; G-d held Mt Sinai over the heads of the Children of Israel and threatened: if you accept the Torah – fine, but if not – this will be your burial spot. Rav Avdimi derives this from the words in Exodus 19:17 b’tahtit hahar (see source #1). Rav Avdimi was not the first sage to use the image of the mountain being held over the heads of the children of Israel. Mechilta d’Rabbi Yishmael (a tannaitic midrash on the book of Sh’mot) is probably the earliest source to interpret the phrase b’tahtit hahar as implying that the Children of Israel stood under an uprooted Mt Sinai (see source #2). According to this midrash, exposed to a host of frightening natural phenomena (meteors, quaking, thunder, lightning), the people huddle together underneath the mountain. The darshan reads tahtit not as the “foot” of the mountain, but as the “underside,” and explains that the mountain was uprooted to provide a secure place for Israel in the face of these frightening phenomena. Israel voluntarily goes under the mountain. The image here is one of protection, reassurance and playful intimacy (Let me see your face, hear your voice, etc).