By Rabbi Avraham
Fischer. A publication of the Orthodox Union in cooperation with the Seymour
J. Abrams Orthodox Union Jerusalem World Center
22 Shevat 5764 - February 13, 2004
The Revelation at Sinai is the fulfillment of Hashem’s plan
for the people of Israel. Everything that occurred up to this point — from the
descent to Egypt, the enslavement and oppression, the plagues, the splitting
of the Sea of Reeds and the liberation — were all in preparation for the
nation’s encounter with Hashem.
After three days of purification, as the Divine Presence descends in fire to
the top of the smoking, quaking mountain, the people are ready for their
And Moshe brought the people out from the camp to meet G-d, and they stood
upright at the foot of the mountain…
And the prophecy is heard:
And G-d spoke all these words, saying: I am Hashem, your G-d, Who brought you
out of the land of Egypt, from the house of slaves… (Shemot 19:17, 20:1-2).
It was known from the beginning that this meeting would take place. While
still in Egypt,
And Moshe said to G-d, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I
should bring forth the Children of Israel out of Egypt?” And He said, “Because
I shall be with you; and this is the sign to you that I have sent you; when
you shall bring the people out of Egypt, you shall serve (TA’AVDUN) G-d on
this mountain” (Shemot 3:11-12).
But, how can the receiving of the Torah, in which the people were essentially
passive, be regarded as the realization of you shall serve (TA’AVDUN) G-d?
Indeed, says Ibn Ezra (in his long commentary), TA’AVDUN is not completely
achieved until later (24:4-8), when Moshe writes down the laws, builds an
altar, and the people offer sacrifices, followed by Moshe’s sprinkling blood
upon the altar, reading the Book of the Covenant, and the people’s committing
themselves to obey Hashem. Serving Hashem, as Moshe had said to Pharaoh
(8:23), means sacrifices and commitment.
However, most other commentaries understand that the very receiving of the
Torah is the actualization of TA’AVDUN. Rashi (3:12) emphasizes that Hashem
did not rescue them from Egypt because they deserved it, but since “I have a
great thing (consequence) for this taking out,” namely, because they are meant
to receive the Torah.
Ramban makes the point that Moshe was concerned lest the people would not
follow him to Canaan. Once they receive the Torah, however, they become
committed to Hashem, which is the service embodied in TA’AVDUN; this, in turn,
will make the people committed to following and obeying Moshe (see 19:9).
[This is the position adopted by Rambam in the Laws of the Fundamentals of the
Hirsch (Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch, 1808-1888) anticipates the entire
difficulty by translating TA’AVDUN ET HA’ELO-IM as
“You shall become the servants of G-d.”
This will occur through receiving the Torah.
Heretofore, prophecy was the domain of individuals. Now, for the first and
only time in human history, an entire nation experiences prophecy. And, in
this instance as in all others, the encounter with Hashem — TA’AVDUN ET HA’ELO-IM
— takes the form of hearing the Divine Will expressed in the form of mitzvot,
This profound idea is developed by Rabbi Dr. Norman Frimer (1916-1993), in his
contribution to the 1966 book, The Conditions of Jewish Belief:
“In almost every instance in the Pentateuch where the will of God directly
confronts man, the event of revelation is not expressed merely as mysterious
divine presentness without content or specificity. Invariably the Torah
associates the Godly call with commission and command.”
Hashem’s initial communication to the prophet is more than just the
contemplation of the mysterium tremendum; it is in the form of a command,
which establishes the nature of the prophetic experience.
Hashem’s first address to Adam, and thus to the human race, is
And Hashem G-d commanded the man, saying, “From every tree of the garden may
you indeed eat; but from theTree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil you shall
not eat of it . . .” (Bereishit 2:16-17).
Hashem orders Noach
“Make for yourself an ark of gopher wood . . .” (6:14).
Hashem commands Avra(ha)m
“Go from your country and from your birthplace and from your father’s house to
the land which I will show you” (12:1).
The first recorded prophecy to Yitzchak is
“Do not go down to Egypt; dwell in the land which I shall tell you of” (26:2).
Yaakov translates his vision of the ladder into commitment:
And Yaakov vowed a vow, saying, “ . . . this stone which I have set as a
memorial shall become a house of G-d, and everything that You will give me I
shall surely tithe to You” (28:20-22).
And, at the burning bush, Moshe is charged:
“Do not approach here. Remove your shoes from upon your feet, because the
place upon which you stand is holy ground” (Shemot 3:5).
Thus mankind learns that Hashem makes demands and sets standards.
Rabbi Frimer continues:
“A similar pattern confronts us as we examine the record of the Sinaitic
stand. On this occasion, to be sure, not just select individuals are graced
with the gift of prophecy. A whole community participates in a national
divine-human meeting. In fact, the revelation at Sinai itself, entailing a
second creation, gives birth to a new people of Israel and constitutes it at
one and the same time as both faith and nation. . . .
Once again, however, the Torah does not describe this “invasion” of the
Timeless into the timely, the Eternal into the momentary, merely in the
universal terms of “Presence as power,” . . . not a call to some ineffable
spiritual ecstasy or mystical union. It is boldly set forth in a detailed
outline of daily living, seeking to interpenetrate every nook and cranny of
experience with holiness.”
Living a life in accordance with the commands of the Torah is the highest
service to Hashem. It is living a life in response to prophecy.
Torah K'Torat Eretz Yisrael!"- Torah from Aloh Na'aleh*
The story of Yetziat
Mitzrayim posits a direct link between God's rescuing Bnei Yisrael from
slavery and His bringing them to “a good and spacious land, a land flowing
with milk and honey.” This was made clear when God first appeared to Moshe
at the Burning Bush. Already then Eretz Israel was established as the
eternal (and only) homeland of the Jewish people and so it has remained
throughout history. When then did it become a viable option for a Jew not
to live in Israel?
It appears that the
first to opt for this choice was Yitro. In his "Studies in the Weekly
Parsha," Rav Yehuda Nachshoni argues that Chazal doubted Yitro's sincerity
when he rejoiced over Bnei Yisrael’s miraculous rescue. He cites Rashi,
Shmot, 18:9, who says [based on Sanhedrin 94a] that when Yitro heard of
the destruction of Egypt “his flesh was filled with goose pimples,” which
suggests that Yitro sympathized with the Egyptians. Rav Nachshoni suggests
that Chazal's position is based on Yitro’s subsequent behavior. When Moshe
invited Yitro to join Bnei Yisrael in entering the Promised Land, Yitro
declined the offer. While Ramban says that Yitro did, indeed, go to
Israel, all other commentators understand that he chose not to go to
Israel and they offer a variety of reasons for his decision.
Sforno suggests that
Yitro claimed, "My old age cannot bear the climate or the food of a new
country.” According to the Sifrei, Yitro posed other, well-known,
arguments as well: “I have a family. I have a country. I have property.”
Rabbi Eliezer HaModai says that Yitro argued that he would be able to do
more good in the diaspora converting the gentiles. Rivash maintains that
Yitro feared the dangers involved in the conquest of the land, despite
Moshe’s assurance that were Yitro to put his trust in God, he would have
no reason fear.
The Klausenberg Rav
contrasts Yitro unfavorably with another famous convert, Ruth. He points
out that the Midrash says that Ruth merited to have the kingdom of David
established through her because she recognized that being a Jew requires
one to live in Israel, and she fulfilled this duty at great sacrifice.
Thus, Ruth was greater than Yitro.
We can emulate Ruth by recognizing the inseparable connection between each
and every Jew and Eretz Yisrael. Or we can make Yitro-like excuses. It is
in our hands.
*D’var Torah from Aloh Na'aleh:
an initiative of former North American Rabbis and laymen who successfully
made Aliyah, aimed at highlighting the centrality of Israel and promoting
Aliyah. They send emissaries – Rabbis, academicians, and others – on
speaking-tours throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Tel: 972-2-566-1181 ext. 320