January 24, 2019 / 18 Shevat, 5779 • Parshat Yitro
Issue 545
Dedicated in loving memory of Mrs. Miriam Friedman

Parshat Yitro

They left Refidim and arrived in the wilderness. Israel encamped there facing the mountain.

Shemot 19:2

Israel encamped there as one united people...facing the mountain: This unity was a prerequisite for the Giving of the Torah. God's presence refuses to dwell amongst discord and disharmony. Only when the Jews were at peace with one another and concerned for one another could they achieve harmony with God, 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 God'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 God's presence in the Torah is granted us only when we are actively concerned for our compatriots.

There is, however, an additional lesson here. The Jews united at Mount Sinai because they were "facing the mountain"-i.e., already under the influence of Torah. God 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 God'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 God's will transforms these differences into stepping-stones to achievement rather than barriers to it.

--From Kehot's

Chumash Shemot