Larchmont Temple Chevra Torah

Questioning faith in the parsha



Larchmont Temple—Har Chayim

The F*-WORD…[F _ _ _ _]…Questions, Conflicts & Connection of FAITH



YITRO—Exodus 19:7-25



HOW should ISRAEL approach God’s Presence?

WHAT does this teach us about living out our faith?



v.9                 Then Moses brought back the people’s words to the Lord.  And the Lord said to Moses: “I will come to you in a thick cloud, in order that the people

may hear when I speak with you and so trust in you ever after…

RASHI…This means in the densest part of the cloud.  Translations understand it correctly; it implies “fog.”

IBN EZRA…  “B’AV HeAnan…”  According to SA’ADIA, this phrase is more literally “a cloud of the cloud,”

comparable to the phrase “holy of holies,” in other words—the most sacred innermost sanctum, the ultimate cloud.

“Thus the people may hear when I speak…” In my opinion, it alludes to God speaking the words of covenant at Sinai. But they initially did not hear God speaking, “You speak to us and we will obey, but let not God speak to us, lest we die.” [20:16]

RAMBAN…The fog where God was.  Everyone could see this was so, as 24:17 explains.  It is “in order that the people

may hear…” IBN EZRA’s comment cannot be correct…What God is here saying is ‘You come into the thick cloud so the people can hear, and they themselves will become prophets of My word and not have to believe what others relate

to them.’  “gam b’cha ya-Aminu–they will believe you” knowing for themselves what the Presence imparts.

S,FORNO   “and trust in you for ever.”  Since up to this point prophecy had been by means of dreams and visions

alone, the people were not convinced that Moses could prophesy while still in possession of his senses.

v.10      Then the Lord said to Moses: Go to the people and sanctify them, today and tomorrow…

MUNK… The “sanctification” was to raise them to the level of prophecy, so they could personally hear the Holy One’s words [KUZARI, 1:87]  RASHI explains “v’kidashtem” as effectively, “instruct them to sanctify themselves.”…

The MIDRASH compares this sanctification to the preparation of a bride for her wedding day, noting that “kidashtem”

shares a root with “kidushin,” thus the ritual bathing, for the third day was the wedding of God and Israel.

v.11      Let them make ready for the third day; for on the third day the Lord will come down, in the sight of all the people, on Mount Sinai

SARNA… In Biblical consciousness, three days constitutes a significant segment of time.  As with Abraham at the Akedah, so here the longish interval is crucial to the trial of faith.  The people’s immediate assent to God’s declaration may otherwise have been given impulsively, without proper consideration.  The three days of preparation and self-restraint allow time for sober reflection, so that acceptance of covenant is considered an undoubted act of free will.

RAMBAN…They will all see Him coming down in the form of a “consuming fire atop the mountain” [24:17] 

Not that they will actually see God, for “no man may see Me and live.” [33:20]

v.12  You shall set bounds for the people round about, saying, “Beware of going up the mountain or touching the border of it; anyone who touches the mountain shall surely die.

RASHI… Fix for them limits—as a sign—that they should know not to approach beyond the boundary.

RASHBAM“set bounds”—to show them just how close they may come.

IBN EZRA…Set a boundary on the mountain around the people.  Even though it literally says “set bounds on the people,” the boundary is obviously on the mountain.  I only explain this at such length because of that crazy man full of hot air [Ibn JANAH]

Who turned the living word of God upside down saying that Moses meant to say “set bounds on the people.”

HERTZ…The Mount where God’s Glory was about to be revealed would, for the time being, be a Sanctuary, endowed with the unapproachable sacredness of the Ark of the Holy of Holies.

v.13  No hand shall touch him, but he shall surely be stoned or shot, beast or man, he shall not live; but when the ram’s horn sounds a long blast, they may go up on the mountain.

ETZ HAYIM… “lo tiga bo yad”…That is, no hand shall touch the trespasser, who has intruded on sacred domain, because this itself would bring another to violate the restriction.  He shall be executed when he is beyond the limits of the mountain.

RASHI…As a sign that the Shechinah has departed and The Voice has ceased. Once I am gone, they are permitted to go up…

The unusual word for ram, as in Arabic—Yuv’la—a ram.  This was the horn of the ram that Abraham sacrificed instead of Isaac.

RAMBAN…I do not understand RASHI’s comment.  The ram substituted for Isaac was a burnt offering, so horns and hooves are burnt as well…In my opinion, there is a deeper meaning to this legend.  What was meant that “the voice of a horn,” [v.16] was the aspect of God known as “Pachad Yitschak—Fear of Isaac.”  This is why “all the people who were in camp trembled.” [v.16]

RASHBAM… When the Shechinah departs, the thunder and lightning and the blare of the horn” cease. [20:15]  The “pull of the horn,”

as the Hebrew literally says, refers not to its sounding but its ceasing.

v.17               Moses led the people out of the camp toward God, and they took their places at the foot of the mountain

RASHI…This tells us that the Shechinah came forth to meet them as a bridegroom does his bride, so Deut 33:2 says not “The Lord came to Sinai,” but “The Lord came from Sinai.”  God was there at the chuppah waiting…

v.20-21        The Lord came down on Mt Sinai, on its top; and the Lord called Moses to the mountain top, and Moses went up. And God said to Moses: Go down. Warn the people not to break through to gaze, lest many of them perish…

RASHI…Literally “not to dismantle” the way they are standing, drawing near to the side of the mount, desiring to see the Lord.

Any destruction pulls apart the unity of the structure, so those who separate from their position, breaking rank, destroy it.

IBN EZRA“Warn the people not to break through” the bounds you have set “by gazing” thinking that they are doing

the right thing by trying to draw close to the Presence out of love.


R’ Samson Raphael HIRSCH…

“and you shall set bounds” The mitzvah of “Hag’balah—setting boundaries,” required the people to remain distant from the mountain and to encircle it.  Thus, the Holy One was a communicating presence who was clearly distinct and separate from them.  Torah was the only ancient law not established by the people themselves; it is not the product of human imagination.  Other religions expressed a specific group’s temporary beliefs, evolving with the passage of time.  However, the statutes of Israel do not originate from man’s interpretation of God and society.  On the contrary, they are given by God and proclaim what ought to be man’s beliefs on these fundamental matters.  From the beginning there was often a boundary, as the Divine Law found itself in opposition to the people who were to accept it.  The power of the Law had to be affirmed over and against the power of this “stiff-necked people.”  Their resistance itself was demonstration of Revelation’s Divine origin…and the boundary that brought Israel close enough to know the Divine.


R’ Elie MUNK…

Moses did not immediately grasp the full significance of the warning “lir’ot—to gaze.” 

He assumed it was included in the prohibition against viewing the site of Revelation at close range. [R’ BACHYA] Accordingly, he replied that the people would not come forward since they had already been warned.  The Holy One then explained to Moses that the prohibition against gazing was meant not only in the physical sense but in the spiritual as well.  The people had to be warned not to exceed the bounds of thought—not to overindulge in metaphysical nor in mystical speculations concerning the Holy One’s essence…

Thus, the Holy One made Moses descend again to warn the people not to ascend to Him—even through speculative thought— “lest YHVH burst forth against them.”  This is in keeping with the understanding of the verse developed by the RAMBAM [Guide, 1:5]

…It should be noted that such contemplation leads or can lead to a sacrilegious rending of the veil of Divine Mystery in an attempt to penetrate beyond the bounds…To a lesser degree, the Levites were forbidden to gaze upon the dismantling of the sacred sanctuary, the parts of which they themselves were commissioned to carry.  [Midrash TANCHUMA, Vayak’hel]


Rabbi Larry KUSHNER…

[from Sparks Beneath the Surface, pg 87]



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: