Parshas Yisro contains the most important event in the history of the world, the giving of the Torah to Bnei Yisrael. Without this gift, Chazal teach us the purpose of Creation would have been unfulfilled, leading to the destruction of the world. But a careful reading of the pesukim reveals a confusing lead up to Matan Torah.
Perek 19, the perek preceding Matan Torah, consists of a back and forth between Hashem, Moshe, and Bnei Yisrael, with Hashem providing instructions for the nation to Moshe, his giving over the message, and Bnei Yisrael responding positively to the instructions. One of Hashem’s main directives was that no one should come close to Har Sinai at the time of Matan Torah. The first time he mentions this to Moshe is in Pasuk 12, and then again in Pasuk 21. After hearing this directive for the second time, Moshe responds in the way any normal person would. “וַיֹּ֤אמֶר משֶׁה֙ אֶל־יְהֹוָ֔ה לֹֽא־יוּכַ֣ל הָעָ֔ם לַֽעֲלֹ֖ת אֶל־הַ֣ר סִינָ֑י כִּֽי־אַתָּ֞ה הַֽעֵדֹ֤תָה בָּ֨נוּ֙ לֵאמֹ֔ר הַגְבֵּ֥ל אֶת־הָהָ֖ר וְקִדַּשְׁתּֽוֹ” “And Moshe said to Hashem, the people cannot ascend Mount Sinai, for You warned us saying, ‘Set boundaries for the mountain and sanctify it” (Shemos 19:23). The problem with this response is obvious; while it might be ok to tell your friend after he repeats himself that you’ve already heard it, this is God we’re dealing with. Of course He knows He warned the people already! Shouldn’t Moshe assume He had a good reason for wanting to repeat it?
The first answer to this question shows us how the Torah teaches us life lessons. Besides for telling us the mitzvos, the actions Hashem commands us to do or not do, the Torah also tells us how to live life, how to act even when we are not commanded to do a certain action. Here is an example of the Torah teaching us how to prepare an individual for a big task. If there is a certain restriction or important detail for him to know, warn him about it well in advance, but then don’t rely just on that instance. Follow it up right before the task begins with another warning.
The second instance in pasuk 21 is Hashem doing just that. The reason for Moshe’s response, explains the Gur Aryeh, is because he was not aware this warning meant that Matan Torah was imminent. Therefore, he was confused why Hashem would need to remind Bnei Yisrael right now; which is why Hashem follows this up in Pasuk 24 by telling Moshe to go down, and come right back up with Aharon for the giving of the Torah.
The Rishonim give a different, interesting answer. Moshe had been given the directive to insure that the Bnei Yisrael not come close to the mountain, and he was confident that he and the other prominent members of the nation could enforce this. Therefore, when Hashem told him again to be careful about this, he questioned why it was necessary. Wouldn’t he be there to warn them? Hashem surprises him with His answer in the next pasuk. “לֶךְ־רֵ֔ד וְעָלִ֥יתָ אַתָּ֖ה וְאַֽהֲרֹ֣ן עִמָּ֑ךְ” “Go, descend, and then you shall ascend, and Aharon with you” (ibid: 24). Moshe wouldn’t be down with the people, because he would be up on the mountain with Hashem!
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