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Shabbat Parashat Yitro 5778

Parashat Hashavua: His Congregation He Founded on the Land

Harav Shaul Yisraeli based on Siach Shaul, p. 236-7

The midrash (Bamidbar Rabba 15:18) connects the pasuk, “Assemble for me seventy men” (Bamidbar 11:16) to “He built the Heavens level upon level, and His congregation He founded on the land” (Amos 9:6). The midrash comments that, as hard as it is to say so, Hashem’s throne in the Heavens is stable only if Israel forms a cohesive congregation. What is the great significance of this unity? The midrash (Bereishit Rabba 38:6) says on the pasuk, “There is a connection in Ephrayim through idols; leave him” (Hoshea 4:17) that even if the people are idol worshippers, if they are connected to each other, Hashem will leave them unscathed. What possible positive element can come from the binding together of wicked people?

In our parasha, we find that Bnei Yisrael “stood at the bottom of the mountain” (Shemot 19:17), from which the gemara (Shabbat 88a) learns that Hashem held the mountain over the people’s heads. About that great event at Sinai, when the people said “We will do and listen,” the midrash (Shemot Rabba 42:8) says that they spoke differently than was in their hearts. But how could they have spoken deceitfully, if as a result of their great statement, the angels rewarded them by giving them special crowns (gemara, ibid.)?

We find that Bnei Yisrael soared up to the high level that enabled them to accept the Torah in an unnaturally precipitous manner (49 levels of impurity to 49 levels of sanctity). How did this occur? The turnabout was made possible by a unique revelation of the Divine Presence, especially at the Splitting of the Sea (Mechilta, Beshalach 3). The incredible revelation created a situation in which there was no room for doubts about Hashem, so that there was almost a suspension of free will. How can one refuse to accept the Torah and mitzvot when he clearly sees Hashem’s greatness?! This is the deeper meaning of holding the mountain over the people’s heads. It turns out, then, that Bnei Yisrael were not being deceitful when they said “we will do and listen,” but rather because of their overwhelming experience, they were unable to have the decision percolate through their consciousness. This is the idea of there being a difference between their statement and their hearts.

How did they reach this level? It came from the unity which Chazal saw in the encampment at Sinai (see Rashi to Shemot 19:2). This is because every person has two types of spiritual power: that which emanates from innate spiritual qualities (segula); that which results from positive actions. The fact that even a sinful Jew is considered a Jew (Sanhedrin 44a) stems from the segula. However, the strength of this segula is predicated on the nation being unique and united, so the unifying factor impacts their souls. For this reason, the mutual responsibility of members of the nation for the sins of others began only when the nation crossed into Eretz Yisrael. Only when unified by acquiring the Land together could every individual be compared to various limbs of one body. The segula found full expression, so that any straying from the path of the Torah was antithetical to the national existence. We praise the unity in Israel because it ultimately necessitates that Torah will exist. At some point, the sinning will come to its end and the nation will return to fulfillment of the Torah. “He built the Heavens level upon level, and His congregation He founded on the land.”   

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