Parashat B'ha'alotkha

How The Trouble Began

The Israelites' troubles, and indeed our own troubles, begin when we turn away from God.

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On the other hand, Mount Sinai/Chorev, where the Torah was given, did not retain the same level of sanctity after the Revelation. When Hashem does associate His Name with it, it is always with the more general and detached Name Elokim, as in:

“And Moshe rose up, and his minister Yehoshua, and Moshe went up to the mountain of Elokim” (Exodus 24:13), and, “And he [Eliyahu] arose and ate and drank and went in the strength of that meal forty days and forty nights unto Chorev the mountain of Elokim” (I Kings 19:8).

Our verse, "And they journeyed from the mountain of Hashem" is the only occasion in the Tanach wherein Sinai is called the mountain of Hashem. 

The Children of Israel disencumbered themselves as they departed from Sinai. Their attitude, as reflected in the words of the verse, demonstrated that they were distancing themselves from Hashem and the sanctity of the Torah, like a student who leaves his learning behind him in the schoolhouse. Their frame of mind was the root cause of all subsequent tragedies.

R. Moshe Chayim Luzzatto
(1707-1746) writes in Mesillat Yesharim, The Path of the Just (ch. I):

When you examine the matter you will see that the only true perfection is attachment to Him, may He be blessed. This is what King David says, "And as for me, closeness to Hashem is my good" (Psalms 73:28). . . . For if man is drawn to this world and distances himself from his Creator, behold he is ruined and he ruins the world with him. But if he controls himself and is attached to his Creator and makes use of the world only as an aid in serving his Creator, then he is elevated and the world itself is elevated with him.

Rav Avraham Yitzchak Hakohen Kook
(1865-1935), in "The Pangs of Cleansing," writes:

The attachment to God in feeling will have its effect in directing life on an upright path to the extent that this basic principle is operative in the soul, in a state of purity. . . . All the troubles of the world, especially the spiritual, such as grief, impatience, disillusionment, despair, the truly basic troubles of man--they came about only because of the failure to view clearly the majesty of God. . . . No grandeur of God is then manifest in the soul, but only the lowliness of wild imaginings, that conjure up a form of some deceptive, vague, angry deity that is dissociated from reality.

When the Children of Israel detach themselves from Hashem, all their troubles result. It will take many years, and much effort, to revive the attachment that we once enjoyed at Matan Torah (the giving of the Torah).

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Rabbi Avraham Fischer

Avraham Fischer is a rabbi at Darche Noam Institutions.