<I>Yitro</I>: Going the Distance

Twice, God tells Moshe <I>Rabbeinu</I> to warn the people not to come close to Mt. Sinai. In fact, Rashi comments that Moshe is puzzled by the second warning, and tells God that he's already relayed the order to distance men and animals from the Mountain of God; but God tells Moshe that he must warn the Jews a second time.

Dr. Aryeh Hirsch,

יום העצמאות 67
יום העצמאות 67
ערוץ 7
There is a well-known midrash that states that the Almighty went to each nation of the world and asked them if they would accept the Torah. Each asked what was written in the Torah, and God gave an example to each one : To Edom, "don't kill"; to Ammon-Moav, "no incest"; to Yishmael, "no thievery". Each turned God down, refusing the Torah. So, the Lord went to Israel, asked them to accept the Torah, and they answered: "All that God says, we will do and obey." (Shmot 24:7)

Rabbi Yitzchak Weinberg, the Talner Rebbe, notes that the commentaries ask why it was that God tested all the other nations with a single commandment (mitzvah), but He did not do so with the Jews. The Talner Rebbe quotes the answer of the Maharal: God did test the children of Israel with a mitzvah, and unlike the other nations, the Jews' test is written not in midrash, but explicitly in the Torah.

Not just once, but twice God tells Moshe Rabbeinu to warn the people not to come close to Mt. Sinai (Shmot 19:12-25). In fact, Rashi comments (verse 23) that Moshe is puzzled by the second warning, and tells God that he's already relayed the order to distance men and animals from the Mountain of God; but God tells Moshe that he must warn the Jews a second time (Rashi on verse 24).

The Maharal states that just like the other nations received warnings in areas that were hardest for them to accept because of their very natures and character, so too the Jews. The Jew's natural bent is a burning desire for the holy and the godly, the will to climb the mount and cling to God. But since the Jews were, besides Moshe Rabbeinu, not at the spiritual level to truly see the Lord, they had to be warned to stay below, where they belonged.

The Rebbe further comments that this was also instructive to Moshe. As leader of the people, he could not simply shout out, "Follow me!" and expect the whole nation to go where he went. His responsibility was to accurately access the true spiritual level of the Jewish people, to "go down" (20:24) to their level and "from that take-off point, lead them up patiently" to the heights.

There is another side to this story, and that is the fear the Jews had of the spectacle of the Presence of God, the Shechinah. Rashi (20:15) notes that the sight frightened them so, that the Jews retreated "twelve milin, and had to be brought back by myriad ministering angels" and Moshe's persuasion (verse 17). The Ramban here comments that the Jews were so afraid "that they distanced themselves further than the allowed border (gevul) and requested that God not speak to them at all," but rather that all the Revelation should come via Moses.

In Devarim (5:5), Ramban adds "that you were afraid to approach even to where you had permission to go." This aspect of the story highlights a tension that exists to this day ,showing this to be a durable psychological difference among people. There are still those who are "afraid to go where we have permission to go," and that is, of course, that other mountain, the Temple Mount (which, the midrash says, actually merged with Sinai during the giving of the Torah). The arguments on both sides won't go away , but it behooves those "who are afraid" to ask themselves what the Jewish people have lost because of their reticence, both in blunting the native Jewish desire la'alot ("to go upwards"), and in terms of national sovereignty vis-a-vis the world.

We should also be asking ourselves whether this nation has, during its short history, and especially since 1992, been getting the leadership it deserves. We are the nation that, the Maharal says, naturally longs to climb the mountain. Just read accounts of those climbers obsessed with the Himalayas, or El Capitan, and one begins to taste the burning desire of this nation to climb, to be Israel in all its glory. In the words of Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook, this national soul founded this country, pushes world Jewry to Aliyah (literally, "climbing upward"), and motivates our soldier-citizenry.

Yet, we have suffered the Rabins , Pereses ,Sharons and Olmerts, who shake the hands of murderers like Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas, and who seek only to deny this nation its climb. It's about time for this nation to move it - upwards, towards the One "who will carry you on eagle's wings and bring you to Me." (Shmot 19:4)

This d'var Torah is in memory of the author's father, Akiva ben-Yehoshua, on his third Yahrzeit.




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