There is never a break or vacation from religious commitment! There is never a “journey away from the Mountain of God.”
By Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel
This week’s Torah portion is “Behalotecha” and it’s full of great content: the Menorah in the Tabernacle, the consecration of the Levites, the “Second” Passover, the cloud and fire that led the way for the Jewish people in the desert, Jewish whining and complaining, and much much more.
One of the shorter passages in the reading recounts the Jewish People’s departure from Mount Sinai into the desert for their 40-year trek. The Jewish people had actually been encamped at Mount Sinai for an entire year but now it was time to go.
The Torah says, “They journeyed from the Mountain of God….” Although a seemingly very simple and straightforward passage, the Talmud calls this passage a “disaster,” “tragedy” and “embarrassment” for the Jewish people.
So, of course, the question is asked: What was going on over here that was so terrible? They weren’t meant to stay at Sinai forever! Eventually they would have to “journey from the Mountain of God.” God told them that He would be taking them to the land of Israel! In fact, the Jewish people were actually supposed to enter the Land of Israel shortly after the Revelation at Sinai. The punishment of a 40-year trek only came later. So, what’s the story?
It is explained that the Jewish People were just a “little too excited” to leave Sinai. As our sages put it: “The Jewish People left Sinai as a child flees from school.”
We’ve all been there and done that. The school bell rings at the end of the day and the teacher could even be mid-sentence…. but as soon as the bell rings, the class is empty.
Sinai was the ultimate Torah experience and Torah education. The Jewish people had free classes and tutorials from the greatest sage of Israel, Moses, not to mention the presence of God Himself! And they are excited to leave like the school bell at the end of the day? Chutzpah!
This was the “tragedy.” They felt that departing from Sinai was some kind of release – as if their Torah experience was [thankfully] over.
If the Talmud is criticizing their behavior, then there must be a lesson for us to learn. A Jew must never feel “free” from the Torah, not to mention that Torah should never be seen as a burden. Torah study and a Torah life is not something limited to the classroom, the synagogue or even the home. Being Jewish and keeping the Torah is a 24/7/365/120 sacred honor and responsibility. There is no journeying away from “Sinai,” from God or from Torah, nor should we ever want it. Torah study and a Torah lifestyle are an “opportunity,” not a “burden.” Even when we do journey, we must take the Torah with us.
There is never a break or vacation from religious commitment! There is never a “journey away from the Mountain of God.” Proud to be Jewish! Proud to have the Torah!