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Just Taste It
Reflections is sponsored by Dr. Michael and Robyn Feinman in honor of their children Chanan and Meira third anniversary and their new grandson Yosef Chaim. We are so proud of you. May the nachas keep coming!

Before the Sinai Revelation, Hashem prepares His people. Beyond the mandatory physical separation, Hashem informs Moshe to teach Bnei Yisrael their twin mission of am segulah (chosen nation) and mamleches kohanim (priestly kingdom). Our Torah empowers and obligates. In effect, Hashem is saying: You are special because you have a mission to/for the world. Moshe informs the zekeinim (elders) to relay and then respond [Shemos,19]

8. And all the people replied in unison and said, "All that the Lord has spoken we shall do!" and Moses took the words of the people back to the Lord.   9. And the Lord said to Moses, "Behold, I am coming to you in the thickness of the cloud, in order that the people hear when I speak to you, and they will also believe in you forever." And Moses relayed the words of the people to the Lord.

The questions in this section are many and manifest. Let us focus on three:

A.  G-d tells Moshe, "I am going to appear to you in the thick cloud."   What's with the thick cloud?

B. Hashem presents a dual motivation: 1. so that the people will listen when I speak to you/ 2. And also you they will believe forever."  -  

B1 - We seek to understand the relationship between these two notions:  their listening [ostensibly to the Divine- Moshe dialogue]: and their subsequent "belief in you [Moshe] forever"

B2 - Even more troubling is the implied notion of belief-now, implying that until now, it was lacking. Do we not find the verse at the sea: [Shemos, 14:31] they believed in Hashem and in Moshe His servant (va'ayaminu baHashem ub'Moshe avdo) and way before that [Shemos 4:31] and the people believed [Moshe's message] - .  

C. After Hashem commands the cloud revelation, Moshe relayed the words of the people to Hashem. But didn't that just happen in verse 8? Since no further dialogue happened in between (unless Bnei Yisrael texted), what more does  Moshe relay[1] ?

Our commentaries here are deep and elaborate. Herein, a cliff-notes version of three basic approaches; For a fuller story click here [and relax with a Chumash and a coke]  

1. Ibn Ezra - there were amongst the Jews those that were in doubt regarding prophecy and though it says [Shemos, 14:31] "Israel saw the great hand ... and believed , it does not say all of Israel.

Most Jews did believe in prophecy, but even at this late stage, there were holdouts. Those previous verses that speak of national faith was a majority view. Ohr Hachaim poses an obvious question: Even after the plagues, the splitting of the sea, the Exodus, Amalek, there were still Jews that doubted Moshe's authenticity?!. Forget cynicism, it seems like insanity to hold such a position and does God really need to justify himself to the insane?

Ohr HaChayim presents a startling simple approach: everyone thought Moshe was a holy man, beloved by G-d. Moshe was a servant of Hashem and the Lord sought to do his bidding. They believed in God and in Moshe as Divine servant; There is only one unfathomable notion: that Infinite God would speak to finite Man, was for those holdouts philosophically untenable.

Thus God makes Moshe appear in a cloud visible to all - a translucent revelatory experience, whereby for the first time in human history, a prophecy is witnessed by a whole nation. Before the Jew can receive the Torah, every single Jew must believe that G-d can speak to man.  For the first and perhaps only time, unanimity is required; a majority/supermajority of Jews believing in prophecy will not do. Once the Jews sees it with his own eyes, he shall  believe it forever.  


2. Ramban is not happy with Ibn Ezra:


And it is not correct - for the children of Avraham would not doubt prophecy; they believed in it from their forefathers .. and it already says they believed in Moshe ... [and just as it does not say there all of Israel believed in it ... so, it does not say here so that the whole nation shall hear]

Ramban's basic problem is that Ibn Ezra forgets Jewish History. Moshe was not the first prophet - what of  Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov - why would the Jews be confounded by the prophetic reality only with Moshe? Therefore, Moshe's prophecy was never the issue - if so, why the national hearing?

You should approach the cloud so that the nation will hear my words and they themselves will be prophets not that they should believe from the mouths of others

[In contrast to Ibn Ezra] It is not a Moshe-Hashem conversation eavesdropped by a few million of their closest friends in order to verify Moshe's prophetic status. No, God says to Moshe, I want the Jews themselves to be prophets - every single member of Klal Yisrael.

A coy imsipring Talmudism calls Jews called benei nevi'im - sons of prophets [cf. Pesachim 66a]. The context: for the one seeking to determine practical halacha without the benefit of a definitive tradition - go out and see what the Jews are doing if they are not prophets - they are at least sons of prophets.

Who says?  Maybe Reuven circa 2011 was not the child of a prophet, maybe his great grandfather was a simple cobbler who eked out a living in Jerusalem making Nikes for the prophets.  No, it is a definitive statement, because for but a moment, everyone in Klal Yisrael was a prophet. And why is this important?

First, it corroborates Moshe's status as a supreme prophet:

They will believe in you forever and if a prophet or a dreamer shall emerge in the future against your words - they will immediately denounce it for they saw with their eyes and heard wiuth their eys that you had reached the supreme status of prophet

Second, a nation that experienced prophecy has that experience forever in their dormant reality [2]

3. Seforno offers a totally different perspective on the matter. Herein, his basic thrust:

Klal Yisrael never doubted Moshe as a prophet, but they did not understand how Moshe could prophesy and still retain all his senses - for until now a prophet would dream or have a vision. ...  The Tanach is full of prophets who enter the prophetic state and effectively leave this world. If Moshe is in this world, it must not be a full prophetic experience; perhaps Moshe is communicating with an angel Only then can one  still retain his humanity for he is one step removed.  Bnei Yisrael do not want the rule of angel - who lack the autonomy to be flexible/merciful[3]

Thus B'nei Yisrael carefully respond to Moshe (v.8) we will do whatever Hashem says for us to do. Moshe initially relays Bnei Yisrael's words, but he does not relate them - for he did not understand their reticence. Hashem responds with a lesson critical for Jews then and now:

I want to show the Jewish people that someone can experience an intimate panim b'panim connection with Hashem and still be normal and the only way I can show them that is if they have it themselves.

An unconfirmed suspicion is that for many the challenge of being a religious/frum/observant/Torah/whatever Jew is more the being than the religious. Deeply etched in our hearts is the sentiment that yes I can do frum, but whilst I am frum, I am not I.  I can even be very frum, but if I am very frum, then I am very not I. I am mamash not human. Religious is escapism - not return to self. Before the Jew could receive the Torah, they, every single Jew had to experience the panim el panim intimacy that Moshe constantly experienced.

Many years ago, King David penned poignant words [Tehillim, 34]

"Taste and see that Hashem it is Good , Praiseworthy is the person who shelters in God.... ... Young lions suffer .... want and are hungry, but those who seek the Lord lack no good.

The cynic might say: Oh really, I know many hungry pious Jews. They are not missing a thing!? Where's their car? A Jew might see a passionate pray-er davening for an hour and feel bad for him (like Yom Kippur everyday). King David responds to them (and to us?) taste it - for the one enshrouded in the world of the material, the Torah Jew seem like a nebach; but if you experience thqat ehrlich passionate relationship with the Ribono Shel Olam, there is nothing like it - and for those tzadikim, who have nothing but it are mamash missing nothing


From his words to our hearts ....

Good Shabbos, Asher Brander


[1] [also note the change of verb from vayashe to vaged

[2] A fourth highly related approach appears in the words of Rambam [Yesodei Hatorah, 8] . The Jews did not believe in Moses, our teacher, because of the wonders that he performed. Whenever anyone's belief is based on wonders, [the commitment of] his heart has shortcomings, because it is possible to perform a wonder through magic or sorcery. - All the wonders performed by Moses in the desert were not intended to serve as proof [of the legitimacy] of his prophecy, but rather were performed for a purpose. It was necessary to drown the Egyptians, so he split the sea and sank them in it. We needed food, so he provided us with manna. .... What is the source of our belief in him? The [revelation] at Mount Sinai. Our eyes saw, and not a stranger's. Our ears heard, and not another's. There was fire, thunder, and lightning. He entered the thick clouds; the Voice spoke to him and we heard, "Moses, Moses, go tell them the following:...." How is it known that the [revelation] at Mount Sinai alone is proof of the truth of Moses' prophecy that leaves no shortcoming? [Exodus 19:9] states: "Behold, I will come to you in a thick cloud, so that the people will hear Me speaking to you, [so that] they will believe in you forever." It appears that before this happened, they did not believe in him with a faith that would last forever, but rather with a faith that allowed for suspicions and doubts. - According to Rambam, the Jews belief in Moshe becomes qualitatively elvated elevated and also serves to override any

[3] Cf . Shemos, 23:21 - after the Golden Calf, when G-d said, "I am sending a malach, - who will not forgive your sins

Moshe prays successfully that this shold not happen.  


Good Shabbos, Asher Brander

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