<I>Yitro</I>: Practicing Judaism in Exile

Why was the Torah given on Mount Sinai in the middle of the desert?

Aloh Naaleh,

Judaism aliyah-r.jpg
Arutz 7
Why was the Torah given on Mount Sinai in the middle of the desert?

It may be suggested that this was done in order to impress upon us that the mitzvot are relevant and meaningful in all geographical locations in the world. The Sifrei, however, offers a diametrically opposed understanding. It calls our attention to the contiguity of two passages in the book of Devarim. The end of verse 11:17 reads: "And you will swiftly be banished from the goodly land that God gives you." This is immediately followed by, "Put these words of Mine upon your heart and upon your soul."

Expounds the Sifrei:
Even when I shall exile you from the Land of Israel to the Diaspora, prepare yourself for the return to Israel through observance of the mitzvot, so that when you return, they shall not be new to you. This may be likened to a mortal king who became angry with his wife and sent her back to her father's house. Before her departure, he warned her. "Do not remove your jewelry, so that when I send for you, they shall not be unfamiliar to you." This is the meaning of the words of Yirmiyahu 31:21: "Set up markers for yourself."
This passage in the Sifrei led the Ramban, the arch-Zionist of the Middle Ages, to formulate his revolutionary theory concerning the observance of mitzvot. As he writes in his commentary to Devarim 4:5 (and in several other places): "To hint at the basic truth that the true observance of all mitzvot can only be fulfilled in Eretz Israel."

Those who live outside Israel fulfill mitzvot only as practice for their long-awaited journey home.
Rabbi Shizgal served as national director of the Mizrachi Organization of Canada and as rabbi of the Beth Israel Congregation of Montreal. Since his Aliyah in 1983, he has been director of public relations and coordinator of special projects at Mosad HaRav Kook.