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Posted on May 25, 2023 (5783) By Rabbi Yaakov Menken | Series: | Level:

Describing the arrival of the Children of Israel in the Sinai Desert, the Torah writes: “In the third month from the Exodus of the Children of Israel from the Land of Egypt, on that day they came to the Sinai Desert. And they traveled from Refidim, and they came to the Sinai Desert, and they camped in the desert, and Israel camped there opposite the mountain” [Exodus 19:1-2].

There are many aspects of these verses which require elaboration. After speaking about the Children of Israel in the plural, and concluding that “they camped in the desert,” the Torah then repeats that “Israel camped there,” referring to the entire nation in the singular form as if Israel were an individual. Rashi explains that this one encampment was unique, in that the entire nation was “like one person with one heart.” They were truly united at that time, in their preparation to receive the Torah together.

More fundamentally, though, the Torah seems to tell the story out of order. First, it says that the Children of Israel came to the Sinai Desert, and then it goes back and says that they traveled from Refidim to get there! And for good measure, it then repeats that they came to the Sinai Desert.

If the first line were the headline of a news article, this would make sense. A headline reports the major news item that is the subject of the accompanying article, which gives the details about the news. But since that first verse is not a headline, why does the Torah go out of order?

The Ohr HaChaim says that one might answer using the idea that “love bends the straight line” (Talmud Sanhedrin 105). The arrival of the Children of Israel was an eagerly-anticipated day, he writes, awaited “to the Creator, to Torah, to the world, to those on high and to those down low, since the day of Creation. And they were sitting and waiting hopefully, ‘When will the Children of Israel come to the Sinai Desert?’”

The Torah teaches that Israel received the Torah and fulfilled the very purpose of Creation. There is a Medrash cited by Rashi on the first word of the Torah, “Breishis,” “In the Beginning:” “For the sake of Torah, which is called Reishis Darko, ‘the beginning of His way’ (Proverbs 8:22).” The Medrash teaches that the universe itself was Created for Torah, and there was no Torah until Israel received it in the Desert. And that is why, the Ohr HaChaim says, the Torah “jumped the order,” telling the critical news that Israel arrived in the Sinai Desert to receive the Torah, before going back to explain from where they had traveled.

This critical idea, that the world was created for Torah, is why the day of Shavuos is so important in not just Jewish but world history. As we see to this day, the critical building blocks of a first-world civilization are found in the Holy Torah. And it is the Jewish inheritance, for all of us, “like one person with one heart,” to appreciate and cherish. May we use this holiday to dedicate ourselves to taking our “portion” in our Divine legacy!