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Shabbat Parashat Yitro 5772

Parashat Hashavuah: On this Day, They Came to Sinai

Harav Shaul Yisraeli - from Siach Shaul, pg. 239-241

Our parasha takes us to the apex of Sefer Shemot, the book of liberation, as Bnei Yisrael approached Mt. Sinai. After all, Moshe had been told that the sign for the delivery from Egypt was, “When you take the nation out of Egypt, they will serve Hashem on this mountain” (Shemot 3:12). The experiences at Sinai also helped clarify why there was a need for an enslavement that had been foretold centuries earlier to Avraham.

Everything that happens to Bnei Yisrael is unique and wondrous. It was born as a nation in a special way, specifically in a foreign land under a period of tremendous subjugation, unlike most peoples who become nations while sitting in their own land. They received the Torah, the blueprint for their national life, in a manner that makes them special among the nations of the world. Hashem loves all of mankind, but Bnei Yisrael was to have a special role (see Seforno, Shemot 19:5). This occurred in the wilderness, of all places, in the midst of a nomadic existence. They were, at the time, disconnected from a normal existence, eating bread from the sky and water miraculously extracted from a stone. They knew nothing of the land they were to enter and where they would live their national life, and did not know how their agricultural lifestyle, which the Torah would regulate, would be run. Were they sure they would be able to observe Shabbat or Shemitta and survive? Sold lands would be returned to their original owners, and debts would be cancelled. Is it possible to accept all these laws without a trace of skepticism?

These questions did not exist for the young nation. “In the third month since Israel’s exodus from the Land of Egypt, on this day, they came to the Desert of Sinai … They encamped in the desert, and Israel encamped (singular verb) opposite the mountain” (Shemot 19:1-2). Chazal stressed, “As one person with one heart.” Yes, upon receiving the Torah, they would be under a system of discipline. This is symbolized by the words, “at the bottom of the mountain,” which our Rabbis understood as describing having the mountain held above their head (Shabbat 88a). They accepted that situation without question. The past had taught them that, naturally, there was no way they could have survived. However, natural conditions would not determine their situation. Rather, the mandate that was given for how they were to live their lives would determine it. As had happened in their past and present, this would continue to happen in the Land.

Chazal’s words are so understandable: “On this day they came to the Desert of Sinai,” not “on that day” – “every day is supposed to be like a new acquisition of the Torah” (Rashi, Shemot 19:1). No words of Torah or commandments grow old. The Torah was never dictated by the times, but it placed its imprint on life. Its words come from an eternal source, and, therefore, they remain new. This is the way we should always view them. 
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