OU Press

Parshat Yitro – Rabbi Goldin

January 19, 2011

A Healthy Distance

by Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, author of Unlocking the Torah Text


The physical posture of the Israelites during the Revelation at Sinai is clearly delineated in advance when, preparatory to Matan Torah, God instructs Moshe: “Set a boundary for the people roundabout saying, ‘Beware of ascending the mountain or touching its edge; whoever touches the mountain shall certainly die…”

This commandment of hagbala (setting a boundary), however, will not be divinely enforced. Instead, God commands the Israelites to execute anyone who crosses the mandated perimeter.


Even the most familiar scenes of our history warrant critical assessment. Why is the moment of closest contact between man and God marked by divinely mandated distance, on pain of death? Why must the Israelites remain at the foot of Mount Sinai during Revelation? What are the lessons to be learned from this God-orchestrated scene at Sinai?

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Adapted from one of the multiple essays on this parsha in Unlocking the Torah Text by Rabbi Shmuel Goldin.