“And Moses wrote all the words of God, and rose up early in the
morning, and built an altar under the mountain, and twelve pillars for the
twelve tribes of Israel.”

Bible studies with Don Isaac Abravanel’s commentary (also spelled Abarbanel) has withstood the test of
time. For over five centuries, Abravanel has delighted – and enlightened – clergy and layman alike,
offering enduring interpretations of the Bible.

Don Isaac Abravanel (1437-1508) was a preeminent Jewish thinker, scholar, and prolific Biblical
commentator. To provide backdrop, when we get to Exodus chapter 24, the Hebrews have already
heard the Ten Commandments directly from God. The ultra-intense experience left the people
overwhelmed, and petrified. In efforts to regain their equilibrium, they distanced themselves from the
base of the mountain. In addition, they pleaded with Moses to be their intermediary with the Almighty
so to avoid any more hair-raising encounters with the divine. The Hebrews also pledged that whatever
God asked of them, they would “do and obey.”

What happened next, Abravanel asks? That evening, Moses ascended Sinai and relayed the Hebrew’s
stance. God then conveyed a raft of statutes to the prophet. At the crack of the following dawn, Moses
“rose up early in the morning, and built an altar under the mountain, and twelve pillars…” Namely, after
he descended the mountain, he erected an altar of earth at Sinai’s base, beside “twelve pillars for the
twelve tribes of Israel.”

Abravanel continues, explaining that at this juncture God and the Jewish people entered into a new
covenant, one sanctified with blood to commemorate the Hebrew’s acceptance of the Torah. “And he
sent the young men of the Children of Israel, who offered burnt offerings, and sacrificed peace offerings
of oxen unto God.” Abravanel posits that the verse speaks of strapping youngsters who could lift the
heavy loads of animal sacrifices, in assisting the encampment. Burnt offerings consisted of sheep. They
were burnt on the altar. Peace offerings, on the other hand, were oxen. People ate and enjoyed the
roasted beef.

At this juncture, the Jews entered into a covenant with the divine. “And Moses took half of the blood,
and put it in basins, and half of the blood he dashed against the altar.” Another verse describes how
“Moses took the blood, and sprinkled it on the people, and said: Behold the blood of the covenant
which God has made with you in agreement with all these words.”

Abravanel wonders: how did Moses sprinkle blood upon myriads of Jews? He suggests that half of the
blood was flicked upon the main altar, while the other half of blood had been dashed upon the twelve
pillars, each pillar corresponding to distinct Hebrew tribes. In that way, Abravanel teaches, it was as if
blood had been sprinkled upon each Jew.

For the full discussion of the covenant, see Abravanel’s World.