The Connection between Mount Sinai and the Land of Israel
Rabbi Daniela Szuster
The event at Mount Sinai is well behind us. After that event, the Torah told us about the building of the tabernacle and its dedication, and several laws were introduced in detail.
Now, quite unexpectedly, the Torah brings us back to Mount Sinai. It is written at the beginning of this week’s parashah:
“Adonai spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai: Speak to the Israelite people and say to them: When you enter the land that I assign to you, the land shall observe a sabbath of Adonai.” (Leviticus 25:1-2)
Many sages try to answer the question of why the Torah brings the event of Mount Sinai and how it is related to the sabbatical laws which didn’t appear before.
For example, Rashi asked and answered: “What has the matter of the Sabbatical year to do with Mount Sinai that Scripture felt compelled to expressly state where it was commanded? Were not all commandments given on Sinai? But this statement is intended to suggest the following comparison: How is it in the case of the law of Shemittah? Its general rules, [its specific prescriptions] and minute details were ordained on Mount Sinai! So, also, were all commandments with their general rules and their minute details ordained on Mount Sinai.”
Rashi is saying that, even though not all the rules were written when the Mount Sinai event was described, all the rules come from t God’s revelation like the laws of the land which appears in this week’s parashah.
Ibn Ezra comments on that passage: “There is no chronological order in the Torah. The words recorded in our section were told to Moses on Mount Sinai. Moses inserted this portion at this point to place in proximity the conditions under which the Israelites could dwell in the land.”
Ibn Ezra goes in the same vein as Rashi but he adds that Moses commented about the commandments of the land now because the people of Israel were close to enter the land of Israel. It is like a didactic strategy.
Rabbi Pinchas Hacohen Peli (1930-1982) who was an Israeli modern Orthodox rabbi, essayist, poet, and scholar of Judaism and Jewish philosophy, commented that by the introduction at this point in the Torah of the law pertaining to the land, namely, that of the Sabbatical and Jubilee year, emphasis is being laid on the fact that the revelation at Sinai, where we received the Torah and the commandments, had one aim: the building of a model society by the people of Israel in their only real, sovereign land.
The exalted moral code of Mount Sinai was not intended to guide a rootless cosmopolitan individual, but a whole people living on it land and cultivating it. The ideals of the Torah must not remain in the lofty realm of the abstract, but it should be realized on the soil of the land itself. The land is more than a mere geopolitical or agro-economic entity – it is also capable of celebrating the Sabbath, and it is expected to do so.
In other words, Rabbi Hacohen Peli is highlighting the close connection between the Torah and the land of Israel. The ethical and moral commandments of the Torah are not abstract values but laws to be applied in the land, in a society, in a daily basis. We need a land in where to live but it would be meaningless without Torah. And the Torah, which is not applied on the daily work of the land, relationships, and transactions, is not a Torah used in its sacred way.
In this week’s parashah: Mount Sinai with its commandments and the land of Israel meet each other by teaching us the importance of their strong and meaningful connection.