Preparing for Kabbalat HaTorah by Rabbi Steven Finkelstein


The Torah states in Shemot (19:2), “VaYis’u MeiRephidim VaYavo’u Midbar Sinai VaYachanu BaMidbar, VaYichan Sham Yisrael Neged HaHar,” ”And they traveled from Rephidim and arrived in Midbar Sinai, and they camped in the desert, and Israel camped there opposite the mountain.”

This pasuk can be divided into three segments. Each segment causes leaves us with a question. First, why is it necessary for the Pasuk to tell us that they left Rephidim and arrived in Sinai if we already know that from the previous Pasuk? Second, isn’t it clear that if they were staying in the desert, they would also be camping there? And finally, why does Hashem switch from describing Israel in plural to describing Israel in singular?

Looking at these questions, it becomes clear that the purpose of the Pasuk is not to give us the details of Bnei Yisrael’s arrival in Midbar Sinai. This Pasuk is actually an introduction to Kabbalat HaTorah. In fact, the Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh sees in each of these three segments a necessary preparation for a Jew to properly receive the Torah.

“And they traveled from Rephidim.” The Gemara in Berachot tells us that the reason Amalek was able to challenge us at Rephidim (17:8) was that we were weak in our conviction to acquire Torah. Leaving Rephidim is symbolic of our reinvigoration and rededication to the pursuit of Torah.

“They camped in the desert.” As the Midrash Rabbah teaches us, Torah will be acquired only by someone who makes himself barren like a desert. Camping in the desert is a reminder that humility is a prerequisite for the acquisition of the Torah.

“And Yisrael camped there opposite the mountain.” As Rashi explains, the Pasuk refers to Yisrael in the singular to teach us that in order to receive the Torah, Bnei Yisrael need to be a united group.

Each year, Chag HaShavuot provides us with the opportunity to relive Kabbalat HaTorah. In order to fully appreciate this experience, we too must reflect on the example of our ancestors. We can look back at this Pasuk and remember that it is only through building our enthusiasm for Torah and Mitzvot, becoming humble people and by working to unite all of Klal Yisrael that we will be prepared to once again receive the Torah into our hearts and lives.

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