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Q&A

Did the people hear the words of the revelation directly at Sinei?

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At the end of Shemot 19, Moshe has gone down from the mountain to speak to the people. Then Shemot 20 begins with the decalogue, with God speaking the commandments. We're then told (20:15) that all the people witnessed the thunder, lightning, blare, and smoke, but it doesn't mention words. The people fall back and then in Shemot 20:16 they say:

“You speak to us,” they said to Moses, “and we will obey; but let not God speak to us, lest we die.”

A plain reading of this passage suggests that God spoke to everybody, with Moshe at the foot of the mountain with the people, and then the people asked him to be an intermediary. (In other words, 20:16 is a reaction to having heard the preceding commandments.) However, since I was a child I've understood the revelation to have happened with Moshe atop the mountain, and I've been unclear on whether the people below heard the actual words or just the "sound effects".

I have heard that there is a teaching (somewhere) that they did hear the decalogue, and every word (or every commandment?) blew them back some distance and they had to keep returning to the mountain. I've also heard (somewhere) that they only heard the first commandment, or perhaps only the first word of the first commandment.

According to our sources (please cite them), how much of the revelation did the people hear as words? If these sources also address my confusion about Moshe's location please include that, but my primary question is about what the people heard.

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Makkot 23b - 24a (3 comments)
I also heard that they heard all the words said at one time but needed to hear them again linearly so... (3 comments)

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AA pointed out in a comment that this is addressed in Makkot 23b-24a. There the g'mara says that of the 613 mitzvot stated to Moshe,

The word Torah, in terms of its numerical value, is 611, the number of mitzvot that were received and taught by Moses our teacher. In addition, there are two mitzvot: “I am the Lord your God” and: “You shall have no other gods”, the first two of the Ten Commandments, that we heard from the mouth of the Almighty, for a total of 613.

I wanted to know where we learn that the first two are different. The Ramban writes (on Shemot 20:7) that the first two were spoken and understood by all, and the rest were spoken but not understood by the people until Moshe explained them. (In this last part the Ramban seems to be explaining an Ibn Ezra that the plain meaning of the text is that all ten were spoken to the people.)

Now the language of this verse, the Name of the Eternal thy G-d, implies that it is as if Moses was speaking, and so also in the case of all the following commandments, whereas in the first two verses G-d is speaking: I; Who brought thee out; before Me; For I; Of them that love Me and keep My commandments. It is for this reason that our Rabbis of blessed memory have said: “We heard the two commandments — I am the Eternal thy G-d and Thou shalt have no other gods — from the Almighty Himself,” for they are the root of everything.

But Rabbi Abraham ibn Ezra asked [concerning this tradition of the Rabbis] that Scripture says, And G-d spoke all these words, and still more clearly it is written [following the Ten Commandments], These words the Eternal spoke unto all your assembly, and again it is written there, And He wrote them down upon two Tablets of stone, meaning that as He said the Ten Commandments to all your assembly, so He wrote them down upon the Tablets!

I will explain to you the tradition of our Rabbis [that we heard the first two commandments from the Almighty Himself]. Surely all Israel heard the entire Ten Commandments from the mouth of G-d, as the literal meaning of Scripture indicates. But in the first two commandments, they heard the utterance of speech and understood their words even as Moses understood them. Therefore He spoke to them directly [in the first person], just as a master speaks to his servant, as I have mentioned. From then on, in the rest of the commandments, they heard a voice of speech but they did not understand it, and it became necessary for Moses to explain to them each and every commandment until they understood it from Moses. And so [the Rabbis] explained: Moses spoke, and G-d answered him by a voice. Therefore [the rest of the Ten Commandments] were addressed by G-d to Moses so that he should tell them thus.

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