May 29, 2017 / 4 Sivan, 5777 • Shavuot
Issue 458
Dedicated in loving memory of Mrs. Miriam Friedman

They left Refidim, and arrived in the Sinai Desert, camping in the wilderness. Israel encamped there facing the mountain.

Exodus 19:2

Israel encamped there as one united people...facing the mountain: This unity was a prerequisite for the Giving of the Torah. G-d's presence refuses to dwell amongst discord and disharmony. Only when the Jews were at peace with one another and concerned for one another's welfare could they achieve harmony with G-d, as well, and attain the degree of spirituality necessary to receive His Torah.

The lesson for us here is that we can become vessels for G-d's Torah only if we truly love each other. Anyone can study the Torah, of course, but the Divine inspiration that grants us additional insight and allows us to sense G-d's presence in the Torah in granted us only when we are actively concerned for our fellow human beings.

There is, however, an additional lesson here. The Jews united at Mount Sinai precisely because they were "facing the mountain"-i.e., already under the influence of Torah. G-d created us as individuals with different intellects, emotions, characteristics, and opinions. Naturally, then, there is no way we can truly get along, no way we can maintain our individuality and differences and still be able to function as one unified body.

Any group of people can unite temporarily or partially in order to accomplish some common goal. But the parties to such confederacies inevitably maintain their personal agendas and lack the mutual concern that enables them to function as a truly unified body.

Only if we are "facing the mountain" - totally devoid of ego and focused in anticipation on receiving G-d's word - do our petty differences pale in significance. Our differences still exist; indeed, it is the blending of all these varied approaches that creates the synergy and energy demanded of our collective Divine mission. But our common devotion to G-d's will transforms these differences into stepping-stones to achievement rather than barriers to it.

--From Kehot's

Chumash Shemot