Friday, February 17, 2006

Parshas Yisro

Rabbi Y.Y. Jacobson, in his drash on this portion (, calls attention to the contrast between the alacrity with which the people accepted the Torah (Sh’mos24:7) with the oft cited verse, “We will do and we will hear”, to the aggadic Talmudic account (Shabbos 88a) of the statement in this week’s portion that the people stood “under the mountain”. That account indicates that G-d literally held the mountain over the heads of the people and told them, “If you accept the Torah, fine; if not, this will be your burial place." The question then becomes, did we accept the Torah willingly or under coercion. Rabbi Jacobson suggests that both modes might be necessarily in play. We are not angels. Our moods and our energy change from day to day (as in last weeks portion in the journey from the Sea to Marah). There are times when we feel so strong a connection to G-d that we leap forward to fulfill His Torah. There are times when the connection is not so strongly felt and we struggle to fulfill the Torah. Sometimes we need to be pushed.

It’s not only us who sometimes need the push. We read in the present portion 19:21-25), that after instructing Moshe Rabbeinu to establish a boundary around the mountain to prevent the people from touching it, G-d descends to the mountain and summons Moshe to ascend. Moshe ascends. The first thing G-d tells him is to descend and warn the people to stay away. This is a direct command of G-d, immediately, as it were, from G-d’s lips. One would think that Moshe would run to do it. But, how does Moshe respond? He says, to paraphrase, ‘Aw, gee whiz, I already did that.” G-d has to admonish him to get himself down from the mountain and again warn the people. If so elevated an individual as Moshe Rabbeinu needed to be so pushed to fulfill a mitzvah, we should not feel badly that the rest of us often need a push.

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