The ultimate “spiritual” and ecological experience – climbing the mountain where Moses was believed to have received the 10 commandments, in Sinai.
In the heart of the Sinai Peninsula lies the biblical mountain that Moses supposedly received the Ten Commandments from God thousands of years ago. When Moses went to traverse the sharp edges of the mountain to pray at the summit, God granted him what has come to characterize monotheistic religion at the present moment.
The Ten Commandments are arguably the most well known laws God granted humanity. Mount Sinai has become a regular place of pilgrimage for millions of people the world over.
This sacred mountain, when climbed today, is a spiritual journey that people of all creeds and ethnicities come to each year in the hope of experiencing the hand of God in this world. Mount Sinai is a path to a different world. With perseverance even the average climber can get to the top of the mountain and bear witness to the birth of modern monotheism.
Seeing the sunrise at dawn, following a few hours of arduous climbing, can change the way we perceive the world. Here, the desert that Moses and the early Jewish people crossed unfolds before your eyes. The spectacular view from where Moses received the stone tablets containing the commandments of God is unlike any location on earth. It is here that religion truly becomes a part of ones life.
This journey, like most in Egypt, begins in Cairo, where the ideal trip consists of renting a mini-bus for the six-hour road trip into God’s land. After entering the Sinai, with its picturesque peaks and reddish glow, head to St. Katherine, the home to one of the earliest churches in Christendom. A friend once said, “this is Sinai, built by God some time ago by moving water. Maybe it should have been left submerged.” We laughed at the irony. Without Sinai there would be no mountains for the Israelites to flee to and no mountain for Moses to climb. St. Katherine was built in order to recognize the importance of that mountain that is situated directly behind.
Arguably the most famous mountain on the planet, maybe second only to Everest, Gabal Moussa, in Arabic, or Mount Moses (Mount Sinai), is, at first glance a seemingly unrecognizable peak within a chain of hundreds of mountains that look almost similar. Despite the obvious difficulty of this being the actual mountain Moses received Tablets from God, thousands of pilgrims and tourists traverse the rugged Sinai in order to climb this sacred mountain, which is believed to actually be the location of where Moses received the Ten Commandments.
From St. Katherine, after an evening of shisha (Middle East pipe) and relaxation with the Bedouins, the trip to the top of the mountain begins. Hours after the sun has set, the sacred path to the top takes its first step. There are two paths to choose from. One, the path of penitence is the more difficult. This route consists of stairs to the top. It is a testament to God, in which the climber climbs thousands of steps that go almost straight up. The second path is a bit easier, as it consists of a dirt pathway that zigzags up the mountain. While this route is not as difficult as the stairs, it still tests the will.
With flashlights as the only assistance up the mountain it is easy to picture Moses, clad in his wooden sandals and long robe ascending to the peak in order to pray and ask God for help from the troublesome times the Israelites were in. Continuing to climb what feels like a never-ending journey through the crevices that asking God for His help doesn’t seem out of question. The darkness does not allow for the cliffs to be discernable, obviously making the climb much more palatable. Nobody would want to know that one little slip and the fall would probably break many bones in the body. There is no turning back after making it a few hundred kilometers.
If climbing a mountain by foot is out of the question due to physical reasons, the Bedouin guides that accompany the groups up the mountain have at their disposal camels and donkeys, which can be ridden if the need arises. This allows for all people, without discrimination of age and physical state, to ascend God’s great mountain.
At times the mountain seems to give way to the ardent climber with level paths that make the climber, at least I did, believe the end is near. However, almost as the luxury of being able to walk straight for a while sets in, God’s mountain throws another climb in the wake. As the footprints of calm are whisked away by the next upward climb, it becomes evident that submission to the will of God begins to be a full force if making it to the summit is going to be a reality.
It is a trial in a sense. Getting to the top of the mountain is a test from God. Passing the test means walking up a jagged mountain for hours in order to bear witness that the spiritual quest was worth the struggle.
For hours climbing, the only thought is that nothing will make this journey worthwhile, until of course, the summit that Moses reached three thousand years ago is finally reached. Now it is a waiting game. After what seems like days, which in fact is no more than a few hours, the climber, winded and tired still has to wait until sunrise to fulfill the journey set out earlier in the evening. But it is worth every second of the arduous climb to the summit.
Make sure to have brought warm clothes, because unlike most of Egypt, the summit of Sinai Mountain is not a pleasant place for the underdressed. With winds gusting at speeds of up to 50 kilometers an hour the warmth of a blanket or two cannot be stressed. There is no greater displeasure than waiting for the warmth of the Sinai sun to makes its break over the surrounding mountain peaks than being utterly cold because the wrong attire was worn.
As daybreak begins to form, the mountain begins to come alive. Its reddish glow starts to come into view. Off in the distance the Red Sea is awakening, with Bedouin and visitor still asleep. If only they knew what they were missing. The sun slowly makes its way across the horizon. This is the time to snap beautiful pictures of the landscape below. The sun appears to race across the desert as if it was competing with the moon for the moment.
By Desmond Shepherd