Parashas Yisro

This week’s parashah recounts the giving of the Torah. The Maggid discusses a difficulty in the Torah’s account that is raised in Shabbos 87a. In Shemos 19:8, the Torah reports that the Jewish People declared their readiness to obey Hashem’s word, and states afterward that “Moshe brought back the words of the people to Hashem.” In the very next verse, the Torah states: “Moshe related the words of the people to Hashem.” The account thus seems unnecessarily repetitive, for between these two statements there is no indication of any further interchange, aside from a declaration that Hashem directed to Moshe himself. It does not appear that Hashem was asking Moshe to relay a second message to the people, so as to create a need for Moshe to come back to Hashem with another response. What, then, was the point of the repetition?
The Maggid suggests a possible explanation based on a Midrash. It is written (Shir HaShirim 1:2): “Kiss me with the kisses of Your mouth, for Your affections are more pleasing than wine.” The Midrash comments as follows (Shir HaShirim Rabbah 1:14, slightly paraphrased):
R. Yochanan interpreted the verse as referring to the time when the People of Israel went up to Mount Sinai. It is like a king who was seeking to marry a certain woman from a good family of distinguished lineage. He sent a messenger to speak with her. She said: “I do not think I am worthy [even] of being his maidservant. I want to hear it from his mouth.” When the messenger returned to the king, he had a grin on his face, but his report to the king was garbled.
The king, who was sharp-witted, said to himself: “Since he has a grin on his face, it looks like she accepted. But since his report to me was garbled, it looks like she said that she wants to hear it from my mouth.”
At the time of the Giving of the Torah, the People of Israel was the woman from the good family, the messenger was Moshe, and the king was the Holy One Blessed Be He. It is written (Shemos 19:8): “And Moshe brought back the word of the people to Hashem.” What, then, is meant by the statement (ibid. 19:9): “And Moshe related the words of the people to Hashem”? We see that when Hashem said, “Behold, I am going to come to you in a thick cloud, in order that the people will hear as I speak with you, and will also believe in you forever,” then “Moshe related the words of the people to Hashem.” He said to Him: “Thus they demanded [to hear the message directly from Your mouth].”
This Midrash implies that the statement “Moshe brought back (וישב) the words of the people to Hashem” and the statement “Moshe related (ויגד) the words of the people to Hashem” are both referring to the same message, but conveyed in two different ways. Initially, when Moshe came before Hashem, he was embarrassed to say outright that the people had demanded to hear Hashem’s message directly from Him. Only from Moshe’s reticence, in combination with his grin, was it recognizable that he was holding something back. This is hinted at in the statement, “Moshe brought back (וישב) the words of the people to Hashem.” Moshe was holding the people’s words within himself like a person bringing something back in a container. It was as if Moshe brought back the words themselves and simply presented them before Hashem, rather than conveying the message orally. Afterwards, when Hashem said, “Behold, I am coming to you … in order that the people will hear as I speak with you,” Moshe was led to tell Hashem explicitly that the people had demanded to hear from Him directly. When our passage states that “Moshe related the words of the people to Hashem,” it is referring to this latter explicit report.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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