Rav Uri Sherki

G-d’s Goals for Israel – both Nationalistic and Spiritual

Machon Meir website,
Parashat "Beha'alotcha", 16 Sivan 5767

Moses presented himself before the Israelites as having been sent by G-d to fulfill G-d’s promise to the Patriarchs to bring them to Eretz Yisrael to inherit it. When Moses fulfilled the first part of the promise, smiting Egypt and splitting the sea, Israel believed in him: “They believed in G-d and in Moses His servant” (Exodus 14:31). They understood that he was really the one about whom it had been said, “G-d will grant you special providence” (Exodus 13:19).

Accordingly, their stay at Mount Sinai was perceived simply as a way-station on the way to Eretz Yisrael, and not as preparation for receiving the Torah, regarding which they had no oral tradition from their ancestors. G-d’s announcement, “When you take the people out of Egypt, you shall serve the L-rd on this mountain” (Exodus 3:12) had been given to Moses, alone, whereas to the people G-d had promised, “I shall bring you to the Land” (Exodus 6:8).

Likewise, the announcement, “So shall you say to the House of Jacob… You shall be for Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6), expressing a religious-universal role for the Jewish nation was an unexpected surprise for Israel. It required that they engage in renewed clarification in order to examine Moses’s reliability in relation to this mission, which “hadn’t been included in the plan.”

It is therefore no surprise that the people responded with incredulity, saying, “Everything G-d said, we shall do” (Exodus 19:8). In other words, “we will do what G-d promised our ancestors, not what you are saying to us now.” Rashi comments: “One who hears from the king’s emissary is not like one who heard from the king himself. We want to see our king!” (see precisely the same interpretation in Rambam’s Yesodei HaTorah 8:1; and in Kuzari 1:49).

In order to remove the doubts from the people’s hearts, a direct, public revelation was required: “I will come to you in a thick cloud, so that all the people will hear when I speak to you. They will then believe in you forever” (Exodus 19:9). The content of that revelation was: “I am the L-rd your G-d who took you out of the Land of Egypt and the House of Bondage” (Exodus 20:2). Seemingly we cannot understand how this sentence serves to verify Moses’s role as emissary in giving the Torah. Rashi therefore explains, “On the sea G-d had been revealed as the Hero of the war, and here, as a merciful Elder.” In other words, at the splitting of the sea, G-d evinced that He possessed nationalistic goals, and here at Sinai, He was like the head of a yeshiva, teaching Torah. Rashi adds, “Don’t say there are many deities.” We mustn’t think that the nationalistic purpose for which G-d sent Moses was different from the Torah-related goal. Rather, as Rashi concludes, G-d said, “It is I who was revealed both in Egypt and on the sea.”

What emerges is that the Sinai Revelation served chiefly to clarify the intrinsic connection between the Torah and the conquest of the Land.