This D’var Torah is in Z’chus L’Ilui Nishmas my sister Kayla Rus Bas Bunim Tuvia A”H & my grandfather Dovid Tzvi Ben Yosef Yochanan A”H & in Z’chus L’Refuah Shileimah for:
-My father Bunim Tuvia Ben Channa Freidel
-My grandmothers Channah Freidel Bas Sarah, and Shulamis Bas Etta, and my great aunt Rivkah Bas Etta
-Miriam Liba Bas Devora
-Yechiel Baruch HaLevi Ben Liba Gittel
-Aharon Ben Fruma
-And all of the Cholei Yisrael
-It should also be a Z’chus for an Aliyah of the holy Neshamah of Dovid Avraham Ben Chiya Kehas—R’ Dovid Winiarz ZT”L as well as the Neshamos of those whose lives were taken in terror attacks (Hashem Yikom Damam), and a Z’chus for success for Tzaha”l as well as the rest of Am Yisrael, in Eretz Yisrael and in the Galus.
מִּשְׁפָּטִים ~ MISHPATIM
After the Torah finishes teaching the collection of laws in Parshas Mishpatim, it returns to narrative form as it continues the story of the Kabbalas HaTorah (Acceptance of the Torah). In this portion of Kabbalas HaTorah, Moshe Rabbeinu makes his ascent to the top of Har Sinai to receive the Luchos HaBris, the Tablets of the Covenant, from Hashem. But, before he does so, he makes sure to instruct the elders of the nation to follow Aharon and his nephew Chur’s directions. So, says Moshe, “…Mi Ba’al Devarim Yigash Aleihem”-“…Whoever has [any] matters [words] should approach them” [Shemos 24:14]—in other words, “If anyone has any issues, I’m leaving them in charge. Don’t do anything crazy while I’m gone. I’ll be right back.”
If we didn’t know the rest of the story, Moshe’s instructions at this time would seem rather simple. He was giving them a handy piece of information “just in case.” “Oh, and if anybody has any questions, just see my brother.” But, considering what we know happens at the end of this story, these instructions take on new meaning. While they appear, at face value, as just innocent directions to the people, there is this ominous feeling in the air because we know that everything that can go wrong, in fact will go wrong. In Moshe’s absence, Aharon will be essentially dominated by the people who will instigate the creation and subsequent service of the Eigel HaZahav, the Golden Calf; soon, when Moshe comes back, he will see the people dancing around an idol. And of course, it couldn’t be that simple and clean. Why not? Because, something had to go wrong, right? There had to be a miscalculation regarding Moshe’s estimated time of arrival and there just had to be an idolatrous time bomb ticking amidst the B’nei Yisrael. Kabbalas HaTorah could not just be a normal, smooth flowing Divine Revelation where everything would go exactly according to plan.
If Kabbalas HaTorah was Hashem’s time to shine, the time for the B’nei Yisrael to reach the peak of their existence by entering into a covenant with Hashem, why did everything have to go wrong? Certainly, humans have free choice and are therefore free to make their own mistakes, but clearly, if given a better situation, we have to assume that they would not have made any bad choices or mistakes. Moshe’s return did not have to be delayed. Hashem could have sent him back at an expected time. There did not have to be miscalculations or miscommunications. There did not have to be any “issues” that would cause a congregation of people to bombard Aharon. Certainly, if Moshe would have truly anticipated the Cheit HaEigel, the Sin of the Calf, his precautions would have been entirely different. He put Aharon in charge “just in case” some individuals here and there had legal questions or Halachic issues—not just in case a multitude of people decided to have a panic attack and build an idol! If it was understood that anyone in the nation had idolatrous tendencies, Moshe surely would have zeroed in on it and instructed them more keenly. He might have babysat them himself and held off on going for the Luchos. If there was ever a concern of when exactly Moshe would have gotten back, Moshe could have been more precise. He could have told them, regardless, not to freak out. Obviously, none of this was anticipated.
Certainly the people themselves couldn’t anticipate any of this. What do they know? They were just slaves in Egypt and were miraculously taken out through a splitting ocean. They were led to the foot of a mountain where they “experienced” G-d’s Revelation. Now, put in a situation where they were in doubt, they panicked. They weren’t expecting any of this. If they knew what building a Golden Calf would result in, we could grant them the presumption that they too would have acted differently.
Of course, when Moshe told the elders to have everyone report to Aharon and Chur, only the Omnipotent One, Hashem Himself, could know at that time what would ultimately happen. If that’s so, why did Hashem allow these dark clouds to rain on the seemingly perfect occasion of Kabbalas HaTorah? Why let the nation on high wander off into the abyss? If the people truly weren’t ready yet for this test, then all of the important leaders could have been notified and the nation could have been trained and educated further. But don’t put them in what looks like a perfect situation for success but actually ends up being the perfect storm toward their failure. Give them a break! Everything was going right until now! If the disaster could have been circumvented, why wasn’t it?
If one looks at the exact text of the scene in our Sidrah when Moshe prepares to ascend Har Sinai, one might notice something oddly familiar.
The Torah states as follows [24:13-14], “Vayakam Moshe ViYehoshua Mesharso Vaya’al Moshe El Har HaElokim. V’El HaZekeinim Amar Shevu Lanu BaZeh Ad Asheir Nashuv Aleichem V’Hineih Aharon V’Chur Imachem Mi Va’al Devarim Yigash Aleihem”-“And Moshe and Yehoshua his assistant got up and Moshe ascended the mountain of G-d. And to the elders, he said ‘Wait [remain] for us with this until we return to you, and behold, Aharon and Chur are with you; whoever has [any] matters shall approach them.”
So, we have a man, Moshe, with this younger individual, Yehoshua, getting ready to ascend a mountain for some Divine experience, whereupon he instructs the others in the scene to “wait here ‘til we come back.” What might this part of our story remind us of?
It sounds somewhat like the narrative of Akeidas Yitzchak, the Binding of Yitzchak, back in Parshas Vayeira [Bereishis 22], when G-d tells Avraham Avinu to offer up his son Yitzchak as an offering on Har HaMoriyah. There, Avraham ascends the mountain with his son and tells the assisting lads with him, using the strikingly similar expression [Bereishis 22:5], “Shevu Lachem Poh Im HaChamor VaAni V’HaNa’ar Neilcha Ad Koh V’Nishtachaveh V’Nashuva Aleichem”-“Wait yourselves here with the donkey, and I and the lad will go yonder, and we will prostrate [worship], and we will return to you.”
Certainly, the imagery of a father figure and a younger figure at the site of a peculiar mountain, preparing for a mysterious and awe-inspiring experience connects these two stories. The individuals in both stories are about to encounter G-d atop a mountain, having little knowledge of what will truly be when they get there, and what will be when they return. Both mountain stories are monumental in Jewish faith, if not world history.
But if one thinks about it, there are a couple of major differences between the two stories. Obviously, there are bound to be a few surface differences; one story involves a small family, while one is happening to an entire nation. One features a father and son, the other, a leader and his disciple. But those are just details. The fundamental difference, however, between these stories, is in the changes in feeling and mood from the beginning to the end.
Avraham ascends the mountain with the intention to slaughter his son. The feeling, as much as or little as Avraham and Yitzchak expressed it, is one of apprehension, despair, and dread. The situation, most would argue, is a bad one, a hopeless one. Yes, G-d decreed it so it’s “good,” but Avraham, for all he knew, would be losing his son, and that certainly doesn’t feel good. But, when he got up that mountain and was ordered not to slaughter his son, as much or as little as he and Yitzchak expressed it, there was an undoubted feeling of relief, thanks, and fulfillment as G-d declared that Avraham had passed his tests and labeled him a Yirei Elokim, one who truly reveres G-d.
Fast-forward to Kabbalas HaTorah. Yes, in this scene, there is trembling fear overwhelming the nation, much like Avraham, as they prepared to sacrifice themselves for the Will of G-d. But, here, they have witnessed Divine Revelation. They have seen G-d’s “Face” and the essence of His purity [Shemos 24:10], whatever that means. There is excitement and anticipation of celebration. The Torah says that they began to offer sacrifices like their forefather was ready to do [24:5]. They were already feasting [24:11]. As we argued earlier, it appeared to be the perfect situation where nothing could go wrong. But, indeed, we were wrong, for, while Moshe was up on Har Sinai, the mood changed for the worse as the B’nei Yisrael panicked and engaged in the Cheit HaEigel, the ultimate insult to Kabbalas HaTorah and the Will of G-d. There was a hysteria that resulted in the greatest shame and regret of the nation, no fulfillment, but utter failure.
We asked a loaded question that can really be asked just about anywhere and anytime a negative situation unfolds. Couldn’t the situation just work out in everyone’s favor so that everyone could be happy and succeed? True, the people made their own mistake, a terrible one, but given a better situation, maybe, just maybe, the mistake wouldn’t have happened. Why doesn’t G-d just allow us to have the perfect situation that doesn’t get ruined by something? In truth, while G-d could do that, our job in this life is not to passively experience “good situation,” and thereby not fail. That’s meaningless, a litmus test that can measure nothing. Anyone can thrive with no problems to tend to. And of course, if we would anticipate the negative situation, we would act differently. But maybe, that’s not good enough—to be able to circumvent negative situations. Obviously, we have to avoid them to the best of our abilities, but sometimes, we can’t. And when we can’t, our job is to thrive even when the going gets tough, even when something disturbs our otherwise perfect situation.
When it came to Avraham Avinu at the Akeidah, we could argue that no man, until his time, had ever had it worse. He was about to slaughter his son. At the very least, he knew the situation was negative! It wasn’t like he had the perfect situation to succeed and then he was blindsided by something negative. He had a situation that most people would fail in, because it was a trying situation from the outset. But Avraham kept his cool and patiently turned his heart to the Will of G-d, following directions to the best of his ability, and that was why he merited the ability to descend the mountain with his son and, yet, a mission accomplished. That was why he was successful—not because he had a good situation, but specifically because he maintained his sanity and thrived in a negative situation. And perhaps amazingly, because of his humble conduct amidst his situation, the situation, as he knew it, drastically changed for the better!
The B’nei Yisrael’s fate, on the other hand, took a turn onto a slightly bumpy road, but their situation up until that point was largely a positive situation. Accordingly, it should have culminated in celebration. Everything was going right, and had the B’nei Yisrael remained patient and listened for instructions, everything would have continued to go right! Nothing would have gone wrong! Their external situation wouldn’t have mattered. Their willingness to cooperate and follow the Will of G-d would have made them successful.
At the end of the day, what are situation is, is not always in our control, but it’s not the situation that really matters most. We can take a good situation and make it a bad one. We can turn a bad one good, make a good one better, or make a bad one worse. But, how we respond to that situation—what we make of our circumstances is our choice and that is what we are judged for. We have to learn from both the successes and failures of our forefathers. That means that we have to be patient, humble, and ready to follow the Will of G-d. If we do that, then in our own lives, we will ascend our own mountains, overcome all trials, and make good of every situation we experience.
May we all be Zocheh to experience good situations, overcome the challenge of all negative situations, make good of every situation by patiently follow the Will of G-d, and Hashem should situate us in the single greatest situation, one of peace, happiness, and redemption in the days of Moshiach, Bimheirah Biyomeinu! Have a Great Shabbos!
-Josh, Yehoshua Shmuel Eisenberg 🙂