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Beit Midrash בית מדרש יתרו

"Many Waters Cannot Extinguish Love"

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In the weekly portions Yitro and Va'Etchanan we see that Matan Torah (The Giving of the Torah) was preceded and accompanied by loud thunder, lightning and fire. This caused Am Yisrael great fear: "And the people saw and trembled, so they stood from afar".

Why was the Torah given in this fashion? Was Hashem's purpose to frighten us? After Matan Torah, in the portion of Yitro, Moshe tells the People: "…God has come in order to test you, and that His awe shall be upon you so that you shall not sin." This verse seems to indicate that the purpose was indeed to instill fear in Am Yisrael. We can interpret this "fear" in several ways:
1. Fear as literally understood.
2. Fear as in awe of Hashem, to cause Am Yisrael to sense the magnitude of the event, and thus to prepare them for the Revelation.
3. It is also possible that Am Yisrael's fear reflected the cosmic reality: Nature itself could not withstand the revelation of Hashem in the world. An upheaval transpired, and the thunder, lightning and fire were part of this change – "Mountains melted at the Presence of the Lord" (Judges ch. 5).
4. We would like to offer a different perspective. In the Torah, "fire" appears many times as burning, harmful, for example in the case of the two hundred and fifty followers of Korach, etc. However, we know that fire was also beneficial to Am Yisrael – as in the pillar of fire that lit the way in the desert and defended them from enemies. The acceptance of sacrificial offerings by Hashem was expressed by fire descending from the heavens. In The Song of Songs we encounter fire as a symbol of love: "Place me as a seal on thy heart…for love is as powerful as death…its sparks are sparks of fire, a flame of the Lord. Many waters cannot extinguish love, and rivers shall not drown it…"
5. "Fire" is a key word in the description of Matan Torah in Va'Etchanan – recurring seven times in the p'sukim there. Fire does indeed carry with it the danger of burning, and this was Am Yisrael's fear before the event. But afterwards, when the fire did not harm them – they realized that this was truly the fire of love – a warming, caressing fire! This is implied in what they said (ch. 5, verse 23): "For who is there of all flesh who have heard the voice of the Living G-d speaking from the midst of the fire, as we have, and lived?"
A human being cannot reasonably be expected to survive such a fire! But Am Yisrael, Hashem's People, were warmed by it! Here, the great love between Hashem and the People of Israel was made crystal-clear – a love like fire, which even torrents of water cannot extinguish!
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