Rabbi David Walk
Let's say that you were going to meet the president of the
One could dodge the issue by claiming that the material in chapter nineteen has other uses besides informing us of the frantic goings on prior to God's appearance on Mount Sinai. However, that would be a stretch. It's clear that the content of Moshe's instructions from God and his conversations with the tribal leadership are all about the upcoming festivities. And that's appropriate. A major component of the Sinaitic experience was the preparations. Rabbinic tradition compares the experience at the foot of the mountain to a wedding ceremony. RebbeYehuda explained: "And he said, The Lord came from Sinai" (Devarim 33:2). Do not read thus, but rather: "The Lord came to Sinai" – to give the Torah to
But this idea brings us to another, equally important, conclusion: Preparation is an extremely important part of any essential enterprise. Confucius (551-479 BCE) said, 'Success depends upon previous preparation, and without such preparation there is sure to be failure.' Since we're deep into the chase for the NFL's Super Bowl trophy (Go, Pats!), I'd be remiss not to mention coaching great Joe Gibbs who said, 'A winning effort begins with preparation.' Many great football players and coaches have said that big games are often won in the video room before either team takes the field. Tele-evangelist Robert Schuller affirms that spectacular achievement is always preceded by unspectacular preparation. Indeed, these days leading up to the revelation at
I have a strong suspicion that the depth of every individual's experience was directly related to the preparation each one put into the effort. They spent five days of intense exertion getting themselves ready for the big event. Before his death, Moshe chides the Jewish people: Take heed to yourself, and guard your soul diligently, lest you forget the things which your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life, but teach them to your children and your children's children: the day that you stood before the Lord your God at Chorev, when the Lord said to me, Gather the people to Me, and I will make them hear My words, that they may learn to fear Me all the days that they shall live upon the earth, and that they may teach their children. (Devarim 4:9-13). What happened at Sinai was for the ages. It's a mitzvah to remember the experience; a sin to forget it.
Our Sages tell us that this requirement of preparation is shared in common with many phenomena. We understand that the joy and happiness that one feels on Shabbat is in direct proportion to the effort expended in preparation during the previous six days. For, indeed, it states in the Talmud, "He who takes pains on Friday will eat on Shabbat." This is what is meant by "G-d has given you Shabbat" - G-d has given you the ability to determine the amount of holiness and pleasure you will feel on Shabbat in direct proportion to the preparation. In Pirkei Avot we're told: This world is comparable to the antechamber before the World to Come. Prepare yourself in the antechamber, so that you are ready to enter the banquet hall (chapter 4, mishneh 16). .
One puzzling aspect of the instructions which Moshe must relay to the Jews is that if not properly prepared the result will be utter destruction (verses 22 & 24). The word most commentaries render as destroy is actually yifrotz, which really means break out. Maybe the meaning isn't physical destruction but spiritual destruction, because God will break out from this constricted physical realm to return to more ethereal realms. If we don't make space for God with our vigorous exertions, God won't visit. Then where are we?
We must believe that if we prepare God will come. Working hard to make this world a fit place for God's enduring presence within it is our role. That's what we mean by preparation. Maybe the Boy Scouts are right. The best motto is: Be Prepared!