Home History Parshat Yitro – The Restraint of Har Sinai

Parshat Yitro – The Restraint of Har Sinai

by Meir Elkabas

The Torah narrates that Hashem instructed Moshe Rabbeinu to set boundaries for the people around Mount Sinai, creating a sort of fence. This precautionary measure aimed to prevent the Jews from approaching the mountain recklessly. Hashem emphasized, “Pen yehersu,” lest they destroy their current state. The intense light of the revelation might lead them to forget themselves and impulsively move toward the radiant peak of Har Sinai.

To ensure the preservation of the Jewish people amidst the heightened exposure, Hashem directed Moshe to establish a boundary. And despite Moshe setting this boundary days before the Sixth of Sivan, the day of Kabbalat HaTorah, Hashem reiterated the warning just before the revelation. He instructed Moshe to address the people once more, emphasizing the importance of not ascending the mountain. Moshe questioned the need for repetition, having already conveyed the message. However, Hashem stressed the significance of reiterating instructions just before taking action.

The Torah underscores the concern and precautions taken to prevent the Jews from ascending the mountain. But what would be the harm in doing so? To understand this, we must recognize that the Jews received the Torah on the 50th day from leaving Egypt, marking the holiday of Shavuot. This number, 50, symbolizes the 50th level of holiness, equating to the highest level, Keter.

The 50th level represents the gateway to the infinite light. Connecting to this level without proper preparation could result in the risk of disappearing or disintegrating. Hence, Hashem’s explicit warning to Moshe to separate the Jews from ascending the mountain, as exposure to this intense light could lead to their disintegration if not approached with caution.

Despite being held back and not ascending the mountain, there’s an intriguing aspect to the narrative. The Midrash and Gemara reveal that upon hearing the first two commandments, starting with Anokhi Hashem, the soul of the Jewish people momentarily departed, effectively experiencing a form of death. However, the souls were subsequently restored to their bodies. This highlights the intensity of the spiritual encounter at Har Sinai. Had the Jews ascended the mountain, the consequences might have been much more catastrophic.

Rebbe Nachman incorporates this notion into his teachings, commonly found in Breslov teachings. He emphasizes that as a Jew advances spiritually, there is a need for brakes to be applied. The individual may find it challenging to self-regulate due to the overwhelming nature of their spiritual journey. This concept resonates in various aspects of Judaism, such as before a person passes away, a struggle between the soul and the body occurs. In this struggle, Hashem shows the departing soul the souls of their parents and grandparents etc.,, creating a stronger draw that facilitates the soul’s departure from the body.

When adversity strikes, the attribute of patience allows a person to approach situations calmly

This concept extends beyond death; every time a Jew experiences spiritual elevation, there is a concern in the heavenly realms that the individual may overexert themselves. Too much spiritual light can potentially overwhelm a person. Hashem intentionally employs stoppers or brakes to prevent spiritual burnout. Rebbe Nachman, in Likutey Moharan lesson 24, delves into the concept of the Keter, an essential element in the spiritual hierarchy, representing the tenth level. It serves as the gateway to the Infinite Light and acts as a boundary between the creator and creation. This boundary functions as a means to rebound a person when progressing too rapidly in their spiritual journey.

The imagery of brakes or stoppers is crucial. It serves as a reminder that individuals, especially those navigating the powerful currents of holiness, Torah, and spirituality, need to exercise caution. Hashem’s intervention with these brakes is a necessary measure to ensure a balanced and sustainable spiritual ascent. It requires wisdom for individuals to interpret the brakes as a signal to wait patiently, acknowledging that even within their physical constraints, they can still attain profound spiritual connections. Thus, Hashem desires individuals to exist as physical entities while maintaining a strong connection to the highest spiritual levels.

This concept finds its eloquent expression in the Torah through Yaakov Avinu’s dream of the ladder. In his vision, he beheld a ladder rooted in the earth with its head reaching the heavens. The symbolism conveys the dual nature of a person who, like the ladder, is firmly grounded in the physical realm while aspiring to connect with the highest levels of holiness. Every Jew is encouraged to embody this duality — engaging in the practicalities of life, such as eating, sleeping, working, and yet establishing a profound connection to Kedusha through Mitzvot, Torah, Emunah, and the teachings of the Tzaddikim. Hashem desires the amalgamation of these seemingly opposing aspects.

To illustrate, Hashem warns Moshe in the Parsha to erect a barrier. Without this barrier, the Jews, driven by their yearning for the light, would impulsively ascend the mountain, risking their own disappearance. This theme permeates Judaism and life itself — the presence of a necessary barrier that demands respect. However, many people, driven by a desire for spiritual highs, tend to disregard these boundaries, overlooking the divine intention behind the limitations.

The inclination to pursue the spiritual light is innate, described in the Zohar as the “Redifa Demachshava L’mirdaf Abatre,” the natural tendency of the mind to chase after the light when exposed to it. The barrier serves as a reminder and protection, preventing individuals from getting too close to the divine light without adequate preparation. Hashem orchestrates this dynamic to ensure that individuals build vessels within their physical existence to receive the light.

Misunderstanding this dynamic can lead individuals astray. Some may persist in their quest for spiritual highs, disregarding the purpose of the barriers, while others, faced with setbacks, view it negatively and distance themselves from Torah and Judaism. The key, as emphasized by Rebbe Nachman, is to acknowledge that getting pushed back is part of the journey. The crucial lesson is not to avoid setbacks but to rise again after each fall, with strong enough resilience to get back up.

In applying this lesson to the present, the Parsha urges us to approach Torah learning with renewed vigor, not as a mere routine but as a daily reexperience of receiving the Torah. Just as at Har Sinai, there was extreme light and the presence of stoppers, individuals are reminded to anticipate daily encounters with spiritual light and to skillfully apply the brakes, recognizing the delicate balance between the physical and spiritual realms.

Shabbat Shalom
Meir Elkabas

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