Seeking Him

We have to get the truth into our heads and change our ideas about this great nation who came out of Mitzrayim. These were the best people who ever lived! They tested God, He did not test them!

HaRav Avigdor Miller zts"l

Judaism Mount Sinai
Mount Sinai
INN:Toras Avigdor

Noblemen Need No Warnings

When the great day of Matan Torah came and the entire Am Yisroel stood together at Har Sinai waiting to see the Glory of Hashem, we find that Hakodosh Boruch Hu gave Moshe Rabeinu a very strict command: רֵד הָעֵד בָּעָם – Descend from the mountain and warn the people: פֶּן יֶֽהֶרְסוּ אֶל הַשֵּׁם לִרְאוֹת – lest they break through to Hashem to see. “They might push through the barriers because of their desire to see Me,” said Hakodosh Boruch Hu. “And then, what will happen? A great tragedy! וְנָפַל מִמֶּנּוּ רָֽב – Very many will fall (Yisro 19:21).

Now, when we hear these words, we get the impression that we know what it's talking about. Today, let’s say, if there’s a live wire hanging down from the telephone pole — it’s sparking maybe, it’s on fire, so there's a natural curiosity that sometimes gets the better of people. And if you’re dealing with a crowd of ignorami, of nobodies, so you’ll need the policemen to come and set up barriers. To merely tell these wild fellows is not enough. You need barricades, and the police have to brandish clubs so that the crowds shouldn’t touch the live wire and, chas v’shalom, וְנָפַל מִמֶּנּוּ רָֽב – people might get hurt or die.

But suppose a covey of kings and presidents is passing by. Imagine for a minute, President Nixon is standing with the Prime Ministers of England and France, and a dozen people like that. Does the policeman have to hold out his club threatening to hit them over the head if they get too close? No! When you’re talking about people of nobility, high-minded people, you don’t need to force any discipline – tell them once and that’s all, they’ll step away. They’re men of seichel – they know how to restrain themselves.

Our Forefathers Are Misunderstood

Now, you have to know that our forefathers were much more disciplined than President Nixon – although I have a good opinion of him by the way; I think he’s a very capable man, despite what the hotheads say. But our forefathers, l’havdil, were very much superior and they had much more self control. And I’m just speaking this way because of this audience. If I were talking to a yeshiva audience, I would say the truth, that they were ten thousand times superior. But you people sitting here would think it’s an exaggeration, so I’m just saying they were better – actually, they were exceedingly superior, better than anything you can imagine.

Unfortunately, most people don’t understand who our forefathers were. I’m sorry to say that even many talmidei chachomim have misunderstood the subject of the dor hamidbar. And therefore the teachers and the preachers – Orthodox ones – present our forefathers in the worst possible light. And they’ve done a good job, believe me! Our children have grown up in the Hebrew schools, the boys in the yeshivos and the girls in the Beis Yaakovs, with the idea that our forefathers were a pretty low crowd.

But here we speak the truth and we therefore have to understand that this was a superior group of people. Despite all of the propaganda, we have to get the truth into our heads and change our ideas about this great nation who came out of Mitzrayim. These were the best people who ever lived! Never again was there a generation that understood things as clearly as those who were standing at Har Sinai to receive the Torah.

Emunah Courses

Before our forefathers came out of Egypt, they took ten courses in emunah – each one of these makkos was an education in itself. It wasn’t like high school or college courses – these were courses that were very much advanced. Emunah 101 was dam. The second course in emunah was tzefardeya. And then came kinim. Each makkah that was visited upon Mitzrayim took a long time and our forefathers sat and studied the details of each one and it went into their bones. They became so aware of the Presence, the imminence of Hakodosh Boruch Hu, that if we here would sit together and learn Chovos Halvovos every night for five hours a night, we would not, even at the end of our days, arrive at what they arrived after they finished dam.

And after they went through everything, they took a few more postgraduate courses at Kriyas Yam Suf. וַיַּרְא יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶת הַיָּד הַגְּדֹלָה, They saw Hakodosh Boruch Hu at the Yam Suf! And not only the lamdanim and the Beis Yaakov women, the disciples of Miriam; even the shifachos, the women who swept the floors, saw more than you and I will ever see: רָאֲתָה שִׁפְחָה עַל הַיָּם מַה שֶׁלֹּא רָאָה יְחֶזְקֵאל בֶּן בּוּזִי בְּמֶרְכָּבָה – A slave woman saw more prophecy at kriyas Yam Suf than Yechezkel HaNavi saw. That’s why Hashem gave them a diploma – He testified about them: וַיַּאֲמִינוּ בַּהֲשֵּׁם – They believed in Hashem (Shemos 14:31). And if Hashem said they believed, then you can be sure that they were aware of His Presence just as much as I am aware of you sitting right here.

The Nation of Prophets

So we understand that the yotzei Mitzrayim were full of emunah certifications, one on top of the other, when they came to Har Sinai. They were the Dor De’ah – The Generation of Knowledge. Most of them were nevi’im! You hear that? Most of the generation of the wilderness were prophets. It may be a big exaggeration for me to say it, but what can I do if Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi says it in the Kuzari. He says, כֻּלָּם מִשְׁתַּדְּלִים לְהַגִּיעַ אֶל הַנְּבוּאָה – All of them were trying their best to attain the state of prophecy, וְרֻבָּם מַגִּיעִים אֵלֶיהָ – and most of them reached it.

Now the Kuzari is not a darshan. The Kuzari, you have to know, counts his words. Instead of “zuggen ah kvort – zuggt er a vort;” it means instead of a long sentence, he says only two words. That’s why you have to study what he says very carefully. And so, when he states that all of them, men and women were trying to attain prophecy, and most of them reached prophecy, you should take those words seriously. And that means that the Am Yisroel were on a very high level – they weren't uncivilized people that needed to be kept in check with barriers and warnings of deathly punishment.

And yet, what do we see? Hakodosh Boruch Hu is treating them as if they were a rabble, a wild multitude. They’re being warned once again and again. כִּֽי סָקוֹל יִסָּקֵל אֽוֹ יָרֹה יִיָּרֶה – You’ll be thrown down; you’ll be put to death (Shmos 19:13). That’s already a strict warning! And then Hakodosh Boruch Hu added a special mitzvah: “Go down and warn them lest they’ll break through the barrier.” An additional yeridah – go down just for that; to warn them! For such a nation, a nation of noblemen and nevi’im, is that necessary?!

The Desire To See Him

Now, for the answer to that we look into the Mechilta. There’s a statement there about this generation and we should understand it as the motto of the dor hamidbar; it was their slogan, and here is how it goes: רְצוֹנֵנוּ לִרְאוֹת אֶת מַלְכֵּנוּ – It is our will, our desire, to see our King. Our forefathers had in their hearts a fire of yearning for Hashem – we have no idea how much there burned in their hearts a longing to see Hakodosh Boruch Hu.

Like our pious king, Dovid Hamelech, when he wanted to express how he thirsted for Hashem, so he said: כְּאַיָּל תַּעֲרֹג עַל אֲפִיקֵי מָיִם כֵּן נַפְשִׁי תַעֲרֹג אֵלֶיךָ אֱלֹקִים (Tehillim 42:2). It’s like a deer in a hot desert and he can’t find any water with which to quench his thirst; and now the deer is longing with every cell, with every fiber in his body for a drink of water: צָמְאָה לְךָ נַפְשִׁי כָּמַהּ לְךָ בְשָׂרִי – So too my soul thirsts for You, Hashem; my flesh longs for You.

It’s a burning desire that great men experience. And here was a generation made up of especially great people — all of them. רְצוֹנֵנוּ לִרְאוֹת אֶת מַלְכֵּנוּ – It is our desire to see our King! That was their dearest wish.

Running Into The Fire

And it was because of that deep wish of the nation standing at the foot of Har Sinai, that’s why Hashem had to warn them again and again to beware. This generation that knew Hashem best, they wanted one thing only – to get close to Hashem, to see Him – and because they were subject to this passion more than anyone else in history, therefore the danger was most real. They would be moiser nefesh to fulfill this desire – they’d forget about danger and they’d rush into fire to see Hakadosh Boruch Hu!

And so Hashem said to Moshe Rabeinu, “You don’t know these people well enough! I know the nature of these people and they’re thirsty for Me. They don’t care for anything – all they want out of life is to come close to Me! And once the dibbur will begin to come forth mipi haShechina, they’ll become wild with passion and they’ll try to break through the barriers! And therefore, רֵד הָעֵד בָּעָם – Go back down and warn them again in My name, פֶּן יֶֽהֶרְסוּ – so that they shouldn’t break through.”

The Ten Tests

Hakodosh Boruch Hu was now revealing to Moshe the greatness of the Am Yisroel, the nation that exists to seek Hashem, and at the same time the danger that might cause. “This desire is going to cause a lot of trouble from now on,” said Hakodosh Boruch Hu.

And that explains a lot of what happened in the wilderness to our forefathers. Everybody knows עֲשָׂרָה נִסְיוֹנוֹת נִסּוּ אֲבוֹתֵינוּ אֶת הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא בַּמִּדְבָּר – There were ten times in the wilderness that our forefathers tested Hashem (Avos 5:4).

Now, we understand that simply as ten times that the Jewish nation ‘sinned’ in the wilderness, ten times they failed the test. Everybody knows about these ten things – and all those who learn chumash in their youth have the impression that it was a very difficult people to deal with. Ten times – one after the other! Something is wrong with a nation like that! No wonder that finally the Almighty got disgusted with them and threw us out of the land into exile.

The Real Story

We have to rethink this however, because if that’s what it means, it’s a queer expression. It should have said “Ten times Hashem tested our forefathers and they failed the test.” Instead it says, “Our forefathers tested Hashem ten times.” What’s the meaning of that?

And the answer is that the real story is just the opposite. These ten tests were ten symptoms of the greatness of that generation! Because what were the ten tests? What did they want with these ten tests? They wanted Hashem to openly demonstrate His presence among them. We wouldn’t test Hashem like that because we don’t long for Him like they did. “Ten times they tested Me to see if I’m still around, to see that I didn’t depart from their midst.” When they asked for food in the wilderness, it wasn’t because they were afraid they would starve. They wanted to see that Hashem should demonstrate His presence. When they asked for drink, they wanted Him to show His Presence.

Because that’s the sign of greatness – the desire to see more and more. The ten "sins" of this generation are actually ten signs of greatness, a result of this intense desire. Every “test” was nothing but an expression, an outburst of this longing: “We wish to see our King!”