As I began to explore the deeper meaning of Zion, I discovered that there is a “road map” to Zion. Hashem, the Redeeming One, revealed this road map to Moshe before the Exodus from Egypt, when Moshe was tending Jethro’s sheep at Mount Sinai and he noticed the burning bush (Exodus 3:1-5). The Redeeming One then conveyed to Moshe the following message:
“I have indeed seen the affliction of My people that is in Egypt and I have heard its outcry because of its taskmasters, for I know its pains. I shall descend to rescue it from the hand of Egypt, and to bring it up from that land to a good and spacious land, to a land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:7, 8).
The “roadmap” reveals the goal of the journey: the land flowing with milk and honey. Moshe was then informed that “before” the entry into the land of milk and honey, Israel would first journey to Mount Sinai:
“When you take the people out of Egypt, you will serve God on this mountain” (ibid 3:12).
In what way are they to serve God on the mountain? On Mount Sinai, the people accepted the responsibility to fulfill the Torah and its path of mitzvos (ibid 24:7). When the people arrived at Mount Sinai, Hashem described to them the nature of their service: “All the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of ministers and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:5,6).
In the following explanation of this service, the Sfas Emes, a noted Chassidic commentator, states:
“The Children of Israel became responsible to repair the world through the power of the Torah.” (Commentary on Parshas Yisro, the year, 5642)
This leads us to a powerful question: If receiving the Torah enables us to achieve such a lofty and universal goal, then should not the Torah have been given in the land where we are destined to fulfill this goal? Should not the Torah have been given on the sacred mountain in Zion which is destined to attract spiritual seekers from all the nations? As Isaiah prophesied:
“It will happen in the end of days: The Mountain of the Temple of Hashem will be firmly established as the head of the mountains, and it will be exalted above the hills, and all the nations will stream to it. Many peoples will go and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the Mountain of Hashem, to the Temple of the God of Jacob, and He will teach us of His ways and we will walk in His paths.’ For from Zion will go forth Torah, and the word of Hashem from Jerusalem.” (Isaiah 2:2,3)
Why, then, was the Torah given on Mount Sinai, “before” we arrived in the Promised Land? An answer can be found in the following message which Moshe conveyed to our people as we stood at the borders of the Land:
“See, I have taught you statutes and social laws which Hashem, my God, has commanded me, so that you may act accordingly in the midst of the Land” (Deuteronomy 4:5).
Moshe is saying that he first had to teach us the statutes and social laws of the Torah “before” entering the Land, so that we will know how to act when we live in the Land. In this spirit, Hashem gave Joshua, the successor of Moshe, the following message “before” the people crossed the Jordan River into the Promised Land:
“Be strong and courageous, for it is you who will cause this people to inherit the Land that I swore to their forefathers to give them. Only be very strong and courageous, to observe, to do, according to the entire Torah that Moshe, My servant commanded you; do not deviate from it to the right or to the left, in order that you may succeed wherever you go. This Book of the Torah shall not depart from your mouth; rather you should contemplate it day and night in order that you observe to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way successful, and then you will act wisely. (Joshua 1:6-8)
The above passages remind us that we were given the Land in order to fulfill the Torah, and as Hashem reminded Joshua, “success” in the Land depends upon our fulfillment of the entire Torah. As we shall discuss in future letters, Moshe and all the later prophets stress that our prosperity and security in the Land depend on our fulfillment of the Torah which enables us to serve as a “light to the nations”; moreover, they also stress that we will lose the Land if we do not fulfill the Torah and thereby fail to become a light to the nations.
Hashem therefore wanted us to understand the sacred and universal purpose of the Land “before” our entry into the Land. This is why the Divine road map places Mount Sinai before the arrival in Zion – a road map which is relevant to our own journey to Zion.
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen (See below)
1. Rabbi Yehudah Halevi, a noted Sephardic sage of the late 11th and early 20th centuries, wrote:
The Land of Israel is called the Land of the Torah (Kuzari 2:20).
2. A previous letter, “A Tale of two Mountains,” discusses how the Temple on Mount Moriah reminds us that the Land of Israel is the land of the Torah. It also discusses why we make a pilgrimage to Mount Moriah, and not to Mount Sinai. This letter appears in the archive on our website, and the following is a direct link to the article: http://www.shemayisrael.com/publicat/hazon/tzedaka/mountains.htm
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