Rabbi Yisrael Shachor
Former Rosh Kollel in Chicago
“If He had brought us close before Har Sinai but did not give us the Torah – Dayenu (literally, it would have been sufficient for us)!” (Haggadah Shel Pesach)
All our commentators wonder: What would have been the point of our standing adjacent to Har Sinai without receiving the Torah? The Ba’al HaHaggadah’s statement enables us to delve into Shmot 19, which precedes Asseret HaDibrot. At first glance, this perekseems to focus exclusively on the steps taken to prepare for Matan Torah (the giving of the Torah). However, the Ba’al HaHaggadah’s statement indicates that the process itself was valuable. We must be grateful to HaKadosh Baruch Hu even for the preparatory stages – and not just for receiving the Torah.
We will address three points:
1. Unity: “And Yisrael encamped (vayichan) there opposite the mountain.” (Shmot 19:2) Chazal famously observed that thepasuk uses the singular, vayichan, rather than the plural, vayachanu. We are taught that Bnei Yisrael arrived in MidbarSinai “as one man, with one heart.” Bnei Yisrael traveled from Refidim, and Chazal explain that “their hands slackened (rafu) from the Torah.” This weakness permitted Amalek to come and fight us. But from Refidim, Bnei Yisrael traveled to Midbar Sinai. The war against Amalek strengthened Yisrael and enabled us to rise above all the internal disputes and to produce the unity which was a necessary condition for receiving the Torah.
In our own generation, anyone who was in Israel forty years ago – during the two weeks preceding the Six Day War – recalls the powerful feeling of unity which prevailed. Undoubtedly, this unity was the reason that HaKadosh Baruch Hu granted us the stunning victory.
I remember that after the war, Rav Moshe Tzvi Neriyah zt”l wrote an article asking why were we privileged to recapture Yerushalayim and to return to Har HaBayit in this war and not during the War of Independence? His response was that during the War of Independence, we were divided and not part of a single army. Instead, the assorted military organizations operated independently. Even in Yerushalayim, each faction attempted to get into the Old City via a different gate. However, during the Six Day War, everyone entered through a single gate: Shaar HaArayot (Lions’ Gate).
2. Bechirah (“chosenness”): The Vilna Gaon discusses the two bircot haTorah: “asher bachar banu” (Who selected us) and “asher natan lanu” (Who gave us). The former refers to the bechirah, which preceded the giving. Even prior to Matan Torah, Moshe Rabbenu is told:
“You shall be to Me a treasure among all the peoples… And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” (Shmot 19:5-6)
The Vilna Gaon explains that Hashem “brought us close before Har Sinai” by “selecting us from among all the peoples.”
3. The site’s holiness: I discovered the following idea in the haggadah written by my great-great-grandfather Rav Netanel Chaim Pappe zt”l. (The haggadah was printed over a century ago in Yerushalayim and will soon be rereleased under the title, Maggid Meisharim.) Har Sinai and its environs are admat kodesh (sanctified soil) which is eminently suited for the events which occur there. At the Burning Bush, a malach (angel) tells Moshe,
“Take your shoes off your feet, because the place upon which you stand is holy ground (admat kodesh).” (Shmot 3:5)
When a person enters a beit knesset, he is immediately struck by the site’s holiness – even before he stands to begin his prayers. How much more so was this true when Bnei Yisrael stood before Har Sinai!
Every bachur experiences the same sensation upon arriving in yeshiva. Even before he commences to learn, he feels that he has changed just by entering a holy place.
The Gemara (BT Shabbat 146a) states:
“When the snake came on to Chava, he cast impurity (zuhama) upon her. [When] Yisrael stood at Har Sinai their impurity was removed. [However] the nations of the world, who did not stand at Har Sinai, their impurity was not removed.”
In other words, when Bnei Yisrael arrived at Har Sinai, they became as pure and holy as Adam HaRishon was prior to the Sin. Both Rav Chaim Volozhin (Nefesh HaChaim 1) and my great-great-grandfather noted that it was not Matan Torah itself which purified Yisrael. Rather, Bnei Yisrael were purified by simply standing before Har Sinai, on admat kodesh.
A survey of other commentators of the Haggadah will surely reveal additional interpretations, and they all join in praising the Creator who “brought us close before Har Sinai.”