Shabbos Parashas Emor

In his commentary on parashas Emor, the Maggid presents, building on a Midrash on the parashah (Vayikra Rabbah 32:2), an essay dealing with the Giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. The essay is not really related to the parashah, but since we are now in the period leading up to Shavuos, the time of the Giving of the Torah, now is a good time to present a digest of this essay.
In the days leading up to the Giving of the Torah, Hashem told Moshe to tell the Jewish People that if they will observe the Torah, He will forge a special relationship with them. In Shir HaShirim Rabbah 1:14, the Midrash relates that the Jewish People told Moshe that they wanted to hear the proposal from Hashem Himself. In his commentary on parashas Yisro, the Maggid explains that Moshe was initially embarrassed to convey to Hashem this reply, because he felt it was audacious, but ultimately Hashem drew the message out of him. Hashem assented to the request, and revealed Himself openly to the people when He gave them the Ten Commandments. Afterward, the Jewish People told Moshe (Devarim 5:20-23):
Behold, Hashem our God has shown us His glory and His greatness, and we have heard His voice out of the midst of the fire; today we have seen that God will speak to man and he can live. But now, why should we die? For this great fire will consume us; if we hear the voice of Hashem our God any longer we will die. … You approach and hear all that Hashem our God will say; you speak to us whatever Hashem our God will speak to you, and we will hear it and do it.
The Maggid explains that Moshe felt that the people had spoken improperly; initially they insisted that Hashem speak directly to them, but afterward they asked him to serve as an intermediary. But Hashem said (ibid. 5:24): “I have heard the voice of the words of this people, that they have spoken to you; they have done well in all that they have spoken.” The Maggid sets out to explain why everything the Jewish People said, both before and after the Giving of the Torah, was proper.
When Hashem issued the Ten Commandments to the Jewish People, the entire nation attained the level of prophesy. But right afterward, when they asked Moshe to serve as an intermediary, they descended from this level. One may ask, then, what did the Jewish People gain from just a brief moment of prophesy? The Maggid develops an answer from a teaching in Niddah 30b. The Gemara says that when a baby is in the mother’s womb, an angel teaches him the entire Torah, but just before birth the angel strikes the baby on the lips and the baby forgets everything. It is not pointless, however, for the baby to have heard the Torah; although he forgets it afterward, an impression remains. When the baby grows and starts learning Torah, the impression eases the way for him to grasp the Torah he is learning, and also gives him a strong desire for Torah.
Similarly, at Sinai, Hashem shone on the Jewish People the brilliant light of His Presence and His Torah, in order to give them the opportunity to experience the sweetness of this light and infuse within them a strong to desire to behold it again. For ultimately, in the end of days, Hashem will shine this light enduringly on us all. Thus, Yeshayah declares (verse 40:5, in haftaras Nachamu): “Hashem’s glory will be revealed and all flesh together will see it, for the mouth of Hashem has spoken.” Hoshea states (verse 2:18): “‘And it shall be on that day’ – the word of Hashem – ‘that you will call [Me] אישי and you will no longer call Me בעלי’” [both אישי and בעלי mean my husband, but the term אישי reflects greater closeness]. Regarding this statement, the Gemara comments (Pesachim 87a): “Like a bride in her father-in-law’s house, and not like a bride in her father’s house.” The revelation at Sinai was a preview of the closeness to Hashem that we will experience in the future.
In this vein, it is written (Yeshayah 35:10 and 51:11): “Those redeemed by Hashem shall return and come to Zion with exuberant song, with eternal joy (שמחת עולם) upon their heads.” The Gemara in Shabbos 88a states that the phrase שמחת עולם can be read as שמחה שמעולם – the joy of yore. The Gemara is saying that the overwhelming Divine revelation that we experienced at Sinai for a brief moment will be granted to us again, this time permanently, in the end of days. Similarly, In Taanis 31a, the Gemara says that in the end of days Hashem will arrange the righteous in a circle with Him in the center teaching them Torah.
We can now understand why it was correct for the Jewish People to initially request that Hashem speak to them directly and afterward ask Moshe to act an intermediary. The people said: “Behold, Hashem our God has shown us His glory and His greatness, and we have heard His voice out of the midst of the fire; today we have seen that God will speak to man and he can live.” They understood that a brief exposure to the light of Hashem’s Presence and His Torah was sufficient to implant within them an impression of this light, along with the knowledge that in the end of days Hashem will speak to man and he will be able to live. The people then continued and said: “But now, why should we die?” They were saying that, with the impression having been made, it was unnecessary for them to risk their lives by continuing to have Hashem speak directly to them.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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