Mount Sinai

We read in our Parasha, that (19:16-23):’On the third day..Moshe brought the people forth from the camp toward G-d, and they stood at the bottom of the mountain..; Hashem descended upon Mount Sinai to the top of the mountain; Hashen summoned Moshe to the top of the mountain..Hashem said to Moshe: ‘Descend, warn the people, lest they break through to Hashem to see, and a multitude of them will fall’..Moshe said to Hashem:’The people לא יוכל: cannot ascend Mount Sinai, for You have warned us, saying:’Bound the mountain and sanctify it.’

The Torah Shleima, in its notes on the concluding words of these psukim (verses), comments:’Many commentaries have been given, on them’, and, in its usual manner, proceeds to relate some of these commentaries.

Clearly, the key words are לא יוכל - literally, can not. However, this can be understood in a number of ways: something which is physically impossible, OR, which is physically possible, but for some reason, should not be done.

Moshe Rabbeinu himself provides the meaning of our passuk.

In Parashat Vayelech, we find that he uses the same words:(31:2) ‘לא אוכל’: I can no longer go out and come in, for Hashem has said to me:’You shall not cross the Jordan’’.

Our Sages comment:(Sotah 13:): ‘I can not’: but didn’t the Torah state that Moshe Rabbeinu was in full possession of his physical faculties, and did he not subsequently ascend Mount Nebo, whose twelve levels he ascended in one bound?’.

Rashi, on the Parasha, answers:’Because Hashem said to me ( you shall not ), this is the meaning of ‘I can no longer go out and come in’.

The Malbim, in a similar way, expounds our passuk::’At the stand of Har Sinai, the hearts of Bnei Israel were freed from the yetser ha’ra, and returned to the pristine level of Adam Harishon before his yetser ha’ra seduced him to transgress; in this state, he was incapable of transgressing Hashem’s Will, and this is the meaning of Moshe Rabbeinu’s words to Hashem:’Since You bound us, saying: Do not ascend the mountain’, there was no posssibility of us doing so, as that would transgress Your Word and to sin against Your commandment.’

This, in essence, encapsulates, the singular declaration by Bnei Israel: כלֶ אשר דבר ה׳ נעשה ונשמע: ‘all that Hashem says, we shall do and we shall heed’.

With your kind permission, let us delve further into the events surrounding this seminal acceptance by Bnei Israel.

Let us first note, that it does not appear in our Parasha, Parashat Yitro - the Parasha of Matan Torah - but in the following Parasha, Parashat Mishpatim.

The Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh comments there:’Whilst, as many of the early commentators expound, the whole of this Parasha is recorded in the sequence in which the events occurred, there is an undisputed saying of our Sages, that the events in our Parasha, including the declaration of נעשה ונשמע, took place on the fifth of Sivan, when Bnei Israel entered into the covenant described there, with Hashem. Therefore, they - and the declaration of נעשה ונשמע - preceded Matan Torah, which was recorded in the prior Parasha, Parashat Yitro, though it occurred subsequently, on the sixth Sivan.

‘Further, this is also stated in the Gemara (Shabbat 88.), where it is said that that Bnei Israel’s declaration of נעשה ונשמע, was made when Moshe came down to them, which means that it preceded Matan Torah.’

The Vilna Gaon elucidates:’The covenant between Hashem and Bnei Israel, in Parashat Mishpatim, was effected by each ‘giving’ to the other ‘something carved’, as it were, from itself so that they would thereby always remain ‘attached’ - Hashem, from His side, agreed to give us ‘the precious plaything which is his joy’: the Holy Torah, and this was His part of the covenant’.

Rav David Cohen, the venerable Rosh Yeshiva of Chevron, adds:’Bnei Israel, for their part, gave that which is the most precious to man: their independence - man, by his nature, yearns for absolute freedom, without any limitations - accepting total subservience of all our desires to obey the Torah and the Mitzvot.’

Our Sages lavish great praise on Bnei Israel, that only they, of all the nations to whom Hashem ‘offered’ the Torah, accepted it unconditionally and with alacrity, in their declaration: ‘all that Hashem says, we shall do and we shall heed’: accepting to do, before knowing what they moght be commanded to.

Here we are blessed to enjoy the ‘spiritual food’ of the Beit Halevi:’The Rambam famously lays down, that one who obligates himself, to do something which is not specified, is not bound by this ‘acceptance’, since, when he accepted, he had no knowledge of what he would be required to do.

‘How, then, did their declaration, seemingly accept ‘to do ALL that’ we may be commanded, thereafter?

‘The answer is: A person can sell himself, as an עבד: a slave to another, and is therefore bound to do whatever his master commands.

‘This is what Hashem sought, when He offered the Torah, and which - as we posited - Bnei Israel accepted, by their declaration: total subservience - and this was the sealing of the covenant with Hashem, Who, on this condition, gave us His Torah.’

Back to our passuk: the answer of Moshe Rabbeinu, to Hashem, is conclusive evidence, that Bnei Israel’s words were truly what was in their hearts - and in the hearts of all the future generations of our people.

לרפואת נועם עליזה בתֶזהבה רבקה ונחוםֶ אלימלך רפאל בן זהבה רבקה, בתוךֶ שאר חולי עמנו.

Danny Ginsbourg is a retired lawyer and Torah scholar who made aliya from Australia a decade ago. He has written five volumes of Torah thoughts in Hebrew,and was awarded the Jerusalem Prize.for the two volume Davsha shel Torah to which there are already several sequels. His weekly Arutz Sheva Torah articles have been made into a book as well.