Parshat Yithro 5784: Hashem Sets “Hagbala” — Precedent for Halachic Boundaries?

Shalom Friends;

This week, our Parshat HaShevua, Parsha Yithro is being sponsored by Pesach and Ann Chapler and family of Ramat Beit Shemesh dedicated for a total, complete, refuah Shleima for Yosef Azriel ben Chaya Michal and for the safety of the Chayalim and the liberation of all hostages and their return home whole physically, mentally and spiritually. To the Chapler family, many thanks for your sponsorship 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
skype: mark.burt3

Parshat Yithro 5784: Hashem Sets “Hagbala” — Precedent for Halachic Boundaries?

by Moshe Burt

We open this year’s Parshat Yithro with an excerpt from Rabbi Shmuel Goldin’s Parsha summary in his sefer, “Unlocking the Torah Text,” Sefer Shemos:

On the first day of the third month after the liberation from Egypt, the B’nei Yisrael arrive at the Wilderness of Sinai and encamp at the foot of Mount Sinai. Moshe ascends the mountain where Hashem speaks to him concerning the selection of the B’nei Yisrael as Hashem’s chosen people. Moshe descends and shares Hashem’s message with the nation, whereupon they exclaim: “All that the Lord has spoken, we will do.”

Hashem delivers a series of instructions to Moshe preparatory to Revelation, including the commandment of “hagbala” (to set a boundary around the mountain, preventing Klal Yisrael from ascending during the onset of Revelation).

The Artscroll Stone Edition Chumash renders to English Sefer Shemos, Perek 19, posukim 10, 12, 13 and 24 and provides commentary:

“Hashem said to Moshe…. You shall set boundaries roundabout saying, ‘Beware of ascending the mountain or touching its edge: whoever touches the mountain shall surely die.'” (Sefer Shemos, Perek 19, posukim 10, 12)

“A hand shall not touch it, for he shall surely be stoned or thrown down; whether animal or person he shall not live…” (Sefer Shemos, Perek 19, posuk 13)

“Hashem said to him [to Moshe], ‘Go, descend. Then you shall ascend, and Aaron with you, but the Kohanim and the people — they shall not break through to ascend to Hashem, lest He burst forth against them.'” (Sefer Shemos, Perek 19, posuk 24)

“Hagbala.” — ” You shall set boundaries.” Moshe was to designate fixed limits around the mountain beyond which humans and animals were forbidden to trespass for if they were to enter a sphere of holiness too intense for their capacity, they would die. As indicated (posuk 24), Aaron’s boundary was closer to the mountain; the boundary of his sons, the Kohanim… and the rest of the nation was further back.

….Hashem sent him [Moshe] to repeat the warning… Hashem knew that the people might disregard the threat of death in their zeal to come closer to the source of the Revelation. If the purpose of life is to elevate oneself to a higher spiritual existence, then one could be ready to give his life to achieve such a goal. But Hashem does not want this. He wants human beings to remain alive and bring holiness into their earthly existence. (The Artscroll Stone Edition Chumash citing Tur and Or HaChaim)

The Sapirstein Edition, “The Torah: With Rashi’s Commentary notes on “You shall set boundaries” (Sefer Shemos, page 226) :

Hashem is instructing Moshe to set boundaries which say to the people that they may not advance beyond them.

Rashi reasons that Moshe must have also been instructed to tell the people what the boundary’s significance was, as otherwise they would not have understood that they were forbidden to go beyond it. (Commentary citing Be’er Yitzchak; Mizrachi)

Rabbi Goldin, in his sefer, “Unlocking the Torah Text,” Sefer Shemos on our Parshat Yithro cites Rabbi Shimshon Rafael Hirsch, z’l (pages 135 – 137) :

This commandment of “hagbala” (setting a boundary), however, will not be Divinely enforced. Instead, Hashem commands the Jews to execute anyone who crosses the mandated parameter. (Rabbi Goldin citing Sefer Shemos, Perek 19, posuk 13)

The physical setting at Sinai… is designed to prove that the Hashem’s word came “to the people” rather than “out of the people.” By insisting that the Jews 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 that law.

The foundations of Judaism’s Law are objective, eternal and not subject to changes wrought by time and circumstance. The Torah is not the product of a nation contemporary with the time of Revelation, but a Divinely ordained document speaking to all times and places. (Rabbi Goldin citing Rabbi Shimshon Rafael Hirsch on Perek 19, posuk 12)

At the moment of the Revelation, 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 certainly remote, existing in a realm beyond our comprehension and often acting in ways we simply do not understand. On the other hand, as the psalmist maintains: “Hashem is near to all who call Him in earnest.” (Rabbi Goldin citing Tehillim 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.

To be holy within Judaism… means to be separate, removed. Three times, in the prophet Yeshayahu’s vision, the heavenly beings declare Hashem’s separateness. In Judaism’s law, the repetition of an event or phenomenon three times creates a reality. Hashem’s absolute remoteness is thus mirrored in the three-fold proclamation of the angels [melochim].

In the very next breath, however, these very same celestial beings declare, “The whole world is filled with His glory.” Hashem, the angels say, is apparent and easily reached in every aspect of our physical surroundings. We need only look around us to find Him.

Rabbi Goldin concludes (ibid, pages 139 – 140) :

Hashem hands the enforcement of the edict of “hagbala” to the Jews, rather than maintaining the designated perimeter Himself, through Divine intervention.

The partnership established at Sinai invests the Jews with immediate personal 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 to 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.” Instead, He relegates that task to His new partners, the people themselves.

May we, the B’nei Yisrael be zocha that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently re-settled in Gush Katif, once the IDF, by the Yad Hashem, destructs and eradicates the wild beasts of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, all other terror entities, and if necessary Iran, and that our brethren be made totally whole — be totally restituted for all that was stolen from them, that the thrice expelled families of Amona be restored to their rebuilt homes and the oft-destroyed Yeshiva buildings in Homesh be rebuilt, as well as the buildings of Yishuv Elchanan, all at total government expense. May our Chayalim return from battle unharmed — physically, mentally and spiritually and may all of the hostages brutally taken by the wild beasts of Hamas be liberated and returned to their families. Baruch Hashem that our dear brother Jonathan Pollard is in his fourth year at home in Eretz Yisrael and has embarked on a new chapter in his life. May Esther Yocheved bat Yechiel Avraham have an aliyah in Shemayim and may her spirit and memory continue to lift Jonathan to at least 120 years. 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 nine 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. May we see, in 5784, the REAL Jews from the Ukraine and Russia make Aliyah enmass — via thorough review by Misrad HaPanim. And may we soon and finally see the total end to the Communist Chinese Wuhan Lab 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.