Parshat Yithro 5782: Har Sinai, Hashem’s Mandated Boundary and the Precedent for the People’s Judicial Responsibilities

Shalom Friends;

This week, our Parshat HaShevua — Parshat Yithro is being sponsored by Jonathan and Debbie Sassen and family of Ramat Beit Shemesh dedicated Lilui Nishmas for Jonathan’s Mother Tova bat Yaakov. To Mishpochat Sassen, many thanks for your sponsorship, your kindnesses through the years in helping facilitate Sefer Torah recycling and for your continued kindnesses.

You can celebrate a Simcha — a birth, a Bar/Bat Mitzvah, a Chassuna or other Simcha event in your life, or commemorate a Yahrtzeit of a loved one, or for whatever other reason by sponsoring a Parshat HaShevua.

Please forward to your relatives and friends and encourage them to sponsor a Parshat HaShevua. And please be in contact with me with any questions, or for further details.

Best Regards,

Moshe Burt
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Parshat Yithro 5782: Har Sinai, Hashem’s Mandated Boundary and the Precedent for the People’s Judicial Responsibilities

by Moshe Burt

With the run-up to Matan Torah in mind, Rabbi Shmuel Goldin provides a context in his sefer “Unlocking the Torah Text” (Sefer Shemos,Parshat Yithro page 135):

…Preparatory to Matan Torah, Hashem instructs Moshe: “Set a boundary for the people around it saying, ‘Beware of ascending the mountain or touching its edge, whoever touches the mountain shall certainly die…” (Rabbi Goldin rendering to English Sefer Shemos, Perek 19, posuk 12; “around it” replaced by this author as per The Sapirstein Edition, The Torah with Rashi’s Commentary, Sefer Shemos, Perek 19, posuk 12)

This commandment “hagbala” (setting a boundary), however, will not be divinely enforced. Instead, Hashem Commands the B’nei Yisrael to execute anyone who crosses the mandated perimeter. (Rabbi Goldin citing Sefer Shemos, Perek 19, posuk 13)

Rashi notes:

Hashem is instructing Moshe to set bounds which says to the people that they may not advance beyond them [beyond this boundary]. (The Sapirstein Edition, The Torah with Rashi’s Commentary, Sefer Shemos, Perek 19, posuk 12, page 226)

Rabbi Goldin asks questions and cites Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch and other sources regarding the importance of setting boundaries between the B’nei Yisrael and Hashem {ibid, pages 135-139):

Why is the moment of closest contact between man and Hashem marked by Divinely mandated distance, on penalty of death? Why must the B’nei Yisrael remain at the foot of Mount [Har] Sinai during Revelation?

Furthermore, in a setting marked by monumental supernatural miracles, why does Hashem leave the enforcement of the boundary around Har Sinai to man? Hashem can certainly protect the perimeter surrounding the mountain through any number of Divinely ordained means.

What are the lessons to be learned from this Hashem-orchestrated scene at Sinai?

Rabbi Hirsch offered an explanation for “hagbala” (setting a boundary). The physical setting at Sinai… is designed to prove that the word of Hashem came “to the people” rather than “out of the people.” By insisting that the B’nei Yisrael remain at the foot of Sinai to receive the Divine Law, Hashem clearly demonstrates for all to see that the people themselves are not the authors of the law.

The foundations of Judaism’s law are objective, eternal and not subject to changes wrought by time and circumstance. Torah is… a Divinely ordained document speaking to all times and places. (Rabbi Goldin citing Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch commentary on Shemos, Perek 19, posuk 12)

…The decree of “hagbala” also reflects a fundamental dialectic [ = relating to] lying at the core of man’s connection to Hashem. At the moment of Revelation, as Hashem launches His eternal relationship with His chosen people, He uses the scene at Sinai to define the very parameters of that relationship.

The Hashem-man relationship will be forged out of a tension between distance and familiarity.

On the one hand, Hashem is… remote, existing in a realm beyond our comprehension and often acting in ways we simply don’t understand. On the other hand, as the psalmist maintains, “Hashem is near to all who call Him, to all who call Him in earnest.” (Rabbi Goldin citing Tehillim psalm 145:18) We are meant to see Hashem as accessible, interested and involved in our daily lives, near enough to be “found” if we only seek Him out.

Two seemingly conflicting elements are essential to the formation of a personal relationship with Hashem: “yira” and “ahava” (fear and love): “And now, Israel, what does the Lord, Hashem ask of you but to fear Hashem…, to walk in all His paths, and to love Him, and to serve Hashem… with all of your heart and with all your soul.” (Rabbi Goldin citing Sefer Devarim, Perek 10, posuk 12)

You can only love and fear the same being when you embrace the complexity inherent in the bond between you.

Thus truth is perhaps best demonstrated by… the human relationships which, in their own small way, most closely mirror our relationship with Hashem. Consider… the contradictory currents… [of] a healthy parent-child relationship or [that of] a strong teacher-student [relationship]. A parent who tries to become his child’s friend… will simply not be an effective parent. A Rabbi or teacher who forgoes the respect and authority due his position loses some… ability to successfully educate. Yet, while maintaining the space demanded by the relationship, both the parent and the teacher must still remain — each to different degrees — accessible, warm and caring.

The complexity of the parent-child bond is, in fact, codified in halacha through [the] two distinct sets of laws [“yira” and “ahava” — fear and love] that are designed to mold and govern the attitude of a child to his parent.

Hashem, therefore, mandates distance at the moment of His closest contact with man, striking the balance upon which their eternal shared relationship will be built.

The Kohanim are fixtures within the service in the Beit HaMikdash [the Temple when it exists], representing the nation through the performance of sanctified rites and rituals before Hashem. …The Kohen Gadol (High Priest), however, is prohibited from entering the Kodesh Kadoshim (Holy of Holies)… except on the most sacred day of the Year, Yom Kippur. Rabbi Goldin citing Sefer Vayikra, Perek 16, posukim 2-3)

…The answer would seem to lie in the balance at the core of our relationship with Hashem. Even the Kohen Gadol might become too familiar in his attitude toward the Holy of Holies and fail to treat this site with the reverence it… richly deserves. By severely limiting the Kohen Gadol’s entry into the Kodesh Kadoshim, the Torah ensures that he, and by definition, the entire nation, will never lose sight of the sanctity of the Beit HaMikdash.

Rabbi Goldin concludes (ibid, page 139-140):

…Hashem hands the enforcement of the edict of “hagbala” to the B’nei Yisrael, rather than maintaining the designated perimeter to Himself, through Divine intervention.

The partnership established at Sinai invests the B’nei Yisrael with immediate and societal responsibilities.

As Hashem transmits the law during Revelation, He also launches the process of legal jurisprudence. Included will be the people’s obligation to judge and punish transgressors, to the best of their ability, as mandated by Divine decree.

This responsibility begins immediately. Hashem, therefore, does not enforce His own ruling of “hagbala.” He instead delegates that task to his new partners, the people themselves.

The precedent set by Hashem’s delegation of the process of legal jurisprudence we see later in our Parsha with Yithro’s proposal to Moshe of delegation of governance to others — in an ordered, hierarchical fashion. (This author cites Rabbi Goldin’s Parsha Summary regarding this last phrase)

Unfortunately, in our time, due to the lack of a Halachic governance and judicial system in Israel, the people who govern have become too familiar with, embedded in and buddy-buddy with the national bureaucracies and judiciary such that they have abominated such delegation to the peril and endangerment of personal, as well as Israel’s national liberty, sovereignty and security.

May we, the B’nei Yisrael be zocha that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently settled and be made totally whole — be totally restituted for all that was stolen from them and that the thrice expelled families of Amona be restored to their rebuilt homes, at government expense; both due to alt-leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized Yassamnik gunpoint. Baruch Hashem that our dear brother Jonathan Pollard is now free of his parole and restrictions and that he and his ill wife Esther Yocheved bat Rayzl Bracha are finally home in Eretz Yisrael. May the MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem — as with the return in April, 2019, via Russia, of the remains of Zachariah Baumel, as should the remains of the two chayalim from the Gaza War of five and a half years ago. May we have the courage and strength to stand up and physically prevent the possibility of Chas V’Challila any future eviction of Jews from their homes and prevent Chas V’Challila the handing of Jewish land over to anyone, let alone to enemies sworn to Israel’s and Judaism’s destruction and eradication. And may we soon and finally see the total end to the Communist Chinese corona virus pandemic and all like viruses and variants. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nei Yisrael as a Unique people — an Am Segula, not to be reckoned with as with “the nations” and may we be zocha to see the Moshiach, the Ge’ula Shlaima, as Dov Shurin sings; “Ki Karov Yom Hashem Al’Kol HaGoyim”, the Ultimate Redemption, bimhayrah b’yamainu — speedily, in our time”, — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!

Good Shabbos!
Moshe Burt, an Oleh, is a commentator on news and events in Israel and Founder and Director of The Sefer Torah Recycling Network. He lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.