04 Feb 2016 Before the Eyes of Israel
At the end of this week’s parsha, Parshas Mishpatim, the Torah tells us of the final stages of the giving of the Torah, which began in Parshas Yisro and culminated with the famous declaration of “we will do and we will listen,” (Ex.24:7) along with the majestic vision of the Almighty, as recorded in Parshas Mishpatim.
The second-to-last pasuk in our parsha tells us: ומראה כבוד ה׳ כאש אכלת בראש ההר, לעיני בני ישראל – And the appearance of the glory of Hashem was like a consuming fire atop the mountain, before the eyes of the Children of Israel (Ex.24:17).
Why does the Torah make a point of telling us that this scene unfolded before the eyes of the Bnei Yisrael, before the entire nation?
R’ Soloveitchik zt’l teaches that, “There are two aspects to the giving of the Torah. First, a system of law was handed down to Moshe. However, if this were the only purpose, then G-d could have revealed the Torah to Moshe alone, with Moshe later teaching the people. The reason for the revelation was to demonstrate that to perceive G-d, one need not have great intelligence, understand philosophy or be an outstanding tzaddik. All (of) Israel was included in this vision. Judaism demands that every Jew feel His Presence and experience Him.” (Chumash Masores HaRav, Shemos, p.223)
Every Jew, on his own, can, should and must experience HKB”H in his daily life. We do not need an intermediary to have a relationship with Hashem. Every person, on his own level, accepts the Torah and thereby enters into the Covenant of Torah, as he brings Hashem into his home, his very self, into his life.
We can understand that לְעֵינֵי, בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, before the eyes of the Children of Israel is meant to include all of Israel – the great scholars, the leaders, the simpleton too. All of Israel includes the men, the women, the elders and the children, each person on his own level.
Rav Moshe of Kobrin once arrived on Friday afternoon to the town of R’ Yisrael of Apta, and he went to see how R’ Yisrael would prepare himself for Shabos. When everything was ready, R’ Yisrael went into the Beis Medrash and began to read Shir Hashirim aloud and with great concentration and intensity. Observing this, R’ Moshe was beside himself with elation, greatly impressed by what he saw.
All of a sudden, the door opened and a barnyard stench filled the Beis Medrash. A Jewish cowherd approached R’ Yisrael and cried out: ‘Rebbe, my cow, my cow!’ R’ Yisrael interrupted his reading of Shir HaShirim and asked what was wrong. The man explained that his cow, which was ready to calve, was experiencing difficulties in the birthing process and were the cow to die, he would lose his livelihood. The Rebbe calmed him down, sent him to a veterinarian, and even gave the cow a blessing of health.
R’ Moshe of Kobrin, who saw this entire incident, was very troubled by what he had seen. Of course, simple-minded Jews must be brought near to religion, but R’ Akiva teaches (Yadayim 3:5), ‘While all books of the Torah are holy, Shir HaShirim is holy of holies!’ How could R’ Yisrael interrupt his recitation of Shir HaShirim for a cow!?
The Rebbe asked him, ‘Did you hear the Jew’s cry?’ ‘Certainly,’ responded R’ Moshe, ‘he cried, ‘My cow, my cow!’ The Rebbe said to him: ‘You weren’t listening well. The Jew was crying: ‘Rebbe, I am nothing, please draw me close to you!’ The simple Jew sought the Rebbe’s closeness, but what could he talk to him about? Only his everyday needs. But his words sent out a message that went far beyond what was actually stated. (By Faith Alone, The Story of R’ Yehuda Amital, p.149-150)
It is not by chance that the very last words of the Torah remind us of this very same message: וּלְכֹל הַיָּד הַחֲזָקָה, וּלְכֹל הַמּוֹרָא הַגָּדוֹל, אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה מֹשֶׁה, לְעֵינֵי כָּל-יִשְׂרָאֵל – And for all the strong hand and for all the great awesomeness that Moshe performed before the eyes of all of Israel (Deut.24:12).
The Torah is all inclusive, embracing every Yid, with room for all. The Torah, therefore, makes a point of teaching us that it was given before the eyes of all of Israel. It is a message and lesson that we would do well to remember.
As we walked through the “Rova”, the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem last week on erev Shabos (or erev Shabat last Friday in Yerushalayim), we came upon three police officers, dressed in full riot gear, who had come down from duty upon Har HaBayis. Based on their interactions with each other, it was obvious that the three worked well together and were confidants, as they did their holy work of protecting us from those atop Har HaBayis, R”L.
It was truly a sight to behold, those three Jews together: one with no kipa atop his bare head, one with a kipa sruga, and the third with a full beard and black velvet yarmulka. Three Jews, so different; three Jews, together.
Even as we each strive to reach higher heights in our own personal avodas Hashem, we must always remember one of the many important, eternal messages of Matan Torah: ומראה כבוד ה׳ כאש אכלת בראש ההר, לעיני בני ישראל – And the appearance of the glory of Hashem was like a consuming fire atop the mountain, before the eyes of the Children of Israel.
Every Jew witnessed the majestic Revelation at Sinai, and every Jew was – and is – included in the Covenant of Sinai.
בברכת בשורות טובות ושבת שלום,