SALT - Thursday, 20 Shevat 5777 - February 16. 2017

  • Rav David Silverberg

            We read in Parashat Yitro that after God summoned Moshe to the top of Mount Sinai and instructed him to prepare Benei Yisrael for the Revelation, “Moshe descended from the mountain to the people; he sanctified the people, and they washed their garments” (19:14).  Rashi, citing the Mechilta, comments, “This teaches that Moshe did not tend to his own affairs, but rather [proceeded] from the mountain to the people.”

            It has been suggested (see, for example, Rav Baruch Yitzchak Yissakhar Leventhal’s Birkat Yitzchak) that Rashi refers not only to Moshe’s giving precedence to his responsibilities of leadership over his personal affairs, but also to his willingness and ability to reach and work with the people at their level.  In the days preceding Matan Torah, we might have expected Moshe Rabbenu to focus on his own spiritual preparations, ensuring he was ready to receive God’s word and behold the Revelation.  But instead of tending to his own “affairs,” his own preparations for this event, he “descended from the mountain,” he came down from the heights of his lofty spiritual stature, and went to the people to help them prepare on their level.  He understood that his role required him to focus his time and attention during this period on the people, and to work with them at their level, which meant understanding them, relating to them, and helping to prepare them.  He knew he could not remain at this time figuratively atop the mountain, in his lofty spiritual heights, but needed instead to come down and relate to the people, guiding and communicating to them in a manner that was suitable for them.

            One of the great challenges of Torah life is knowing how to divide our time between the “mountain,” the lifelong pursuit of greatness and unending efforts to grow and achieve greater heights, and the “people,” our obligation to try to make an impact upon others.  Sometimes we need to turn away from our “own affairs,” from our own efforts to grow, for the sake of helping to inspire and uplift others.  While we must, on the one hand, constantly climb and strive to reach higher levels of knowledge and piety, we must also, at times, come down to the people and do what we can to help them on whichever level they currently find themselves.  This is the example set for us by Moshe Rabbenu in the days preceding Ma’amad Har Sinai, and this is the dual obligation that we must bear throughout our lives as we work to fulfill the commitments made by our ancestors at the time they accepted the Torah and forged an eternal covenant with the Almighty.