Beit Midrash

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To dedicate this lesson

A Decision on a Different Plane by a Nation Fit for It


Rabbi Shaul Yisraeli zt"l

(based on Siach Shaul, p. 239-241)

As the Ramban (Intro. To Shemot) explains, the giving of the Torah is the climax of Sefer Shemot. Indeed it was the event for which Hashem did the exodus, as the pasuk says: "… when you take the nation out of Egypt, you shall serve Hashem on this mountain" (Shemot 3:12). This was the completion of the liberation, which gives perspective to the envisioned process of enslavement and liberation which Hashem foretold Avraham at the Brit Bein Habetarim.
Everything having to do with Israel develops in an unconventional and fantastic way. That is the way the nation was born and the way we received the Torah, the blueprint for our national lives as an independent nation in its land. We became a nation in the difficult exile of Egypt (Devarim 26:5), as slaves, unlike other nations who become a nation while living in their own land in tranquility.
We were destined to remain unusual throughout our national existence, and this is part of the meaning of the description as an am segula. As the Seforno explains, while every human being, who is created in Hashem’s tzelem (roughly, form), is special to Him, Bnei Yisrael was chosen to be special among the nations. He appointed us as a "kingdom of priests and a holy nation" (Shemot 19:5), and we required the Torah to plot a path for this special task.
The young nation was still without a land and without a state – a group of nomads in the desert, alternating between "they traveled" and "they encamped." They were divorced from a normal existence, eating bread that fell from the sky and drinking water that was extracted from a rock. What did they know about the land in which they were to live as a nation? What experience did they have in agriculture which they needed to develop? What did they know about the economic and strategic challenges awaiting them? Under such conditions, how could they accept to take off every Shabbat from work, or one year out of seven, or forgo repayment of loans under certain conditions?
For the nation that left Egypt, these questions did not exist! They arrived at Sinai "like one man with one heart" (see ibid. 19:1-2, with Mechilta, Yitro 1). They settled "under the mountain," ready for the coercion represented by Chazal by a mountain held over their heads. They were taught by their traumatic past that they would always exist beyond any natural order. Even if they were ostensibly free and independent, they were always dependent on Hashem’s miracles. The rules of nature did not dictate what they needed in order to survive. Rather, the decree that they would live and be maintained as a nation dictated what elements of nature would remain normal and which would be altered.
How appropriate was it that Chazal picked up on the words, "On this day they came to the Sinai Desert," as opposed to "on that day." We learn that we should view every new day like the one on which the Torah was first given (Tanchuma, Yitro 7). The words of Torah do not become old. We are not under the rule of time in the standard way, but we impact life. The Torah is nourished by the spring of eternity. This is how we too should view the Torah that we have.
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