d’rash for parashas Yisro (Exodus 18:1 – 20:23) 5781 – Mattan Torah
“And He said: ‘Certainly I shall be with thee; and this shall be the token unto thee, that I have sent thee: when thou hast brought forth the people out of Egypt, ye shall serve G-d upon this mountain.”
– Exodus 3:12, JPS 1917 Tanach
“I promise thee that when thou hast brought them forth from Egypt ye will serve Me upon this mountain — i.e. that ye will receive the Torah upon it.” – Rashi, sefaria.org
When G-d spoke to Moshe at the burning bush, Moshe asked, “Who am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh, and that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt?” (Exodus 3:11, JPS). G-d assured Moshe, despite his own doubts, that he would know that he was chosen as the Redeemer of B’nei Yisrael, when he would “serve G-d on this mountain.” In other words, that B’nei Yisrael “would serve Him at the very spot Moses was standing on at that moment” (Or HaChayim, sefaria.org). For this was the culmination of the Exodus from Egypt – the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. “And it came to pass on the third day, when it was morning, that there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud upon the mount, and the voice of a horn [shofar] exceeding loud; and all the people that were in the camp trembled” (Exodus 19:16, JPS).
The impressive array of fireworks was more than a celebration of the liberation of a people from slavery. Rashi explains that H’Shem preceded the people, by appearing on Mount Sinai first, even before Moshe went up to receive the commandments. He explains that usually a teacher does not wait for the pupil; however, H’Shem’s august Majesty preceded Him, and His Presence alighted on the mountaintop. “Now mount Sinai was altogether on smoke, because the L-RD descended upon it in fire; and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked greatly” (Exodus 19:18, JPS). “And the L-RD came down upon mount Sinai, to the top of the mount; and the L-RD called Moses to the top of the mount; and Moses went up” (Exodus 19:20, JPS 19 Tanach).
Moshe, who had previously “hid his face; for he was afraid to look upon G-d,” when H’Shem appeared to him at the burning bush, must have gained some confidence since that time. Only Moshe was permitted to climb Mount Sinai, to speak with G-d. Furthermore, he was told by H’Shem to “charge the people, lest they break through unto the L-RD to gaze, and many of them perish” (Exodus 19:21, JPS 1917 Tanach). For as is written elsewhere, “G-d is a consuming fire” (Deuteronomy 4:24). He is to be approached with awe and respect. “Thou shalt fear the L-RD thy G-d; Him shalt thou serve; and to Him shalt thou cleave [deveykus]” (Deuteronomy 10:20, JPS 1917 Tanach).
The Torah given on Mount Sinai is eternal. It was given to the B’nei Yisrael (Children of Israel) as a ketubah (a marriage contract) between G-d and Israel. This is why when a synagogue receives a new sefer Torah, it is placed under a chupah (a marriage canopy), and paraded around, while people celebrate. At Sinai, the people entered the covenant with great awe and respect. And, even before receiving the commandments, they said, “na’aseh v’nishmah,” we will do and we will understand. In other words, first we will do, then we will understand; only after performing the commandments, will we begin to fully understand their value, meaning, and intent. This was the commitment that B’nei Yisrael made, in regard to the commandments given by the L-RD our G-d, who redeemed us from slavery in Egypt (Exodus 20:2).