Parshas Yisro contains the single most important event in the history of the Jewish Nation, the Giving of the Torah. This is what establishes our eternal relationship with God and defines everything we do in life. However, before we could accept the Torah, there were certain requirements which had to be reached. The events leading up to Matan Torah show us what they were.
When Bnei Yisrael arrive at Har Sinai, the sight of the Giving of the Torah, the pasuk says, “וַיִּסְעוּ מֵרְפִידִים וַיָּבֹאוּ מִדְבַּר סִינַי וַיַּחֲנוּ בַּמִּדְבָּר וַיִּחַן שָׁם יִשְׂרָאֵל נֶגֶד הָהָר” “They (Bnei Yisrael) traveled from Refidim, and they arrived at the desert of Sinai, and they encamped in the desert, and Israel encamped there opposite the mountain” (Shemos 19:2). The Kli Yakar points out several seemingly repetitive statements in the pasuk. First of all, the first time the pasuk says they camped at the mountain, it uses the plural form, “וַיַּחֲנוּ”; however, when it talks about their encampment later on in the pasuk, it refers to them in the singular form, “וַיִּחַן”. Secondly, the pasuk first calls it the “desert of Sinai’ but later refers to it simply as “the desert”. Lastly, the pasuk first refers calls the mountain by its name, Sinai, but at the end of the pasuk calls it simply “the mountain”! In fact, says the Kli Yakar, the whole second half of the pasuk starting from “וַיַּחֲנוּ …” seems completely superfluous!
Rashi gives a very famous explanation of why the singular form “וַיִּחַן” is used to refer to the millions of people that made up Yisrael. The reason they are called one man is because they were acting as one man as such that everyone was at peace with each other and there were no arguments. The Kli Yakar uses this explanation to say that the Torah could not be given until Bnei Yisrael reached a level of complete peace amongst themselves. In fact, the pasuk in Mishlei (Proverbs) says about the Torah, “וְכָל נְתִיבוֹתֶיהָ שָׁלוֹם” “All its’ paths are peace” (Mishlei 3:17).
The pasuk tells us Bnei Yisrael traveled from Refidim which, as we spoke about last week, is where they challenged Hashem and fought amongst each other. So they traveled from this place of machlokes, and reached “מִדְבַּר סִינַי”, the desert of Sinai. There is a well-known medrash which explains why Hashem chose this mountain to give the Torah on. The medrash says how all the mountains in the desert were bragging about themselves and saying why they deserved to have the Torah given on them. Har Sinai was the lowest mountain in the area and did not say anything at all, thinking that there was no way it would be chosen because of its insignificant size and beauty. Hashem chose it because of this humility it showed. When Bnei Yisrael came and saw this small, humble mountain was the one Hashem had chosen to be the sight of the most spectacular event in history, they all took this to heart and realized that humility and self-effacement is the true way to accept the Torah and live in peace.
So when Bnei Yisrael arrived at the desert, they were still in their old mindset, therefore the pasuk refers to their encampment in plural. However, once they camped opposite “הָהָר”, the mountain, they realized their foolishness and afterwards are referred to as a single unit. This entire process is alluded to in the pasuk by all these seemingly extra words.
Chazal say that we should treat every day as if we received the Torah today, that way it will stay just as precious and exciting to us as on the day we got it. Perhaps we should also treat every day as if we learned the lessons of receiving the Torah as well, that way we can always keep in mind what allows us to accept the Torah in the first place. This Shabbos, let’s work on focusing not just on ourselves but our family, friends, and community, because we can only truly accept the Torah when we are all together.
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