When Bnei Yisrael first arrived in Midbar Sinai, the Sinai Desert, to accept the Torah, the Torah states, “BaChodesh HaShlishi LaTzeit Bnei Yisrael MeEretz Mitzrayim BaYom HaZeh Ba’u Midbar Sinai,” “In the third month from the Exodus of the Children of Israel from Egypt, on this day, they arrived at the Sinai Desert” (19:1). What is very perplexing is the Pasuk that follows, “VaYisu MeRefidim VaYavou Midbar Sinai VaYachanu BaMidbar VaYichan Sham Yisrael Neged HaHar,” “They journeyed from Rephidim and arrived at the Sinai Desert and encamped in the Desert; and Israel encamped there, opposite the mountain” (19:2). The question arises: if the second Pasuk mentions where Bnei Yisrael left from, shouldn’t it precede the first Pasuk, which mentions where they arrived? Is it not it more logical to state the starting location before the end location?
The Ohr HaChaim offers a profound insight into Matan Torah to answer this question. He explains that the reason the Torah first records Bnei Yisrael’s arrival at the Midbar and their leaving Refidim in the second Pasuk is in accordance with Chazal’s teaching, “love ruins the regular order, [it reorganizes events] to record earlier the events that occur later” (BeReishit Rabbah 55:8). Namely, when someone is in love, he becomes so utterly oblivious to the concept of time. Therefore, because Bnei Yisrael so loved Hashem and were so excited to receive His Torah, it is as if they lost track of time to such an extent that the Torah mixes up the logical order of events.
I heard a similar idea from Rabbi Josh Kahn of TABC who asked, why is it that so many people stay up all night on Shavuot to learn, as would it not be more productive for them to get a sufficient amount of sleep during the night to enable them to learn with their full strength and with better concentration the next day? Furthermore, we are told to stay up all night to atone for Bnei Yisrael’s sin of sleeping the night before Matan Torah, but were they not doing so to optimize their focus for one of the most critical events in the history of the world, Matan Torah? Rabbi Kahn answers that we stay awake on Shavuot night to show our intense love for the Torah. When one is “head over heals” for God and his Torah, he ignores the possibly more rational idea of sleeping a sufficient amount in favor of remaining awake learning all night. Although the rest of the year we need to get a proper amount of sleep to remain healthy, on Shavuot night we stay up learning just to show the intensity of our love for Torah. Therefore, we can understand why Bnei Yisrael were held accountable for sleeping before Matan Torah. Since they had attained such a high level of love and excitement, it was only appropriate that they defy logic and stay up all night to demonstrate their intense love for God and his Torah.
Bnei Yisrael had such a strong love for Hashem and his Torah at the time of Matan Torah that they lost all concepts of reality. Although in our generation, which is so spiritually distant from Har Sinai, we often have trouble feeling such a close connection to Hashem and his Torah, it is important to aspire to reach such a level of closeness. As the Gemara states, “HaBa’ah LeTaheir Mesayin Oto” “One who seeks to do Teshuvah, Hashem will help him”. Therefore, if one tries to reach this level of love for Hashem and his Torah, we are guaranteed by Chazal that Hashem will help us come closer to this goal.
-Editor’s Note: Please see the Ohr Hachaim’s comments on Shemot 19:2 for another profound insight into Bnei Yisrael’s preparation for Matan Torah.