Shavuos: Sinai by Another Name ~ Rabbi Reuven Chaim Klein

We are all probably familiar with the name of the site of the greatest mass revelation of G-d’s existence — Mount Sinai. However, throughout the Bible that place is variously mentioned under other names. These names include “Mountain of G-d,” “Mount Bashan,” “Mount Gavnunim” (Psalms 68:16), “Mount Hemed” (Psalms 68:17), and “Mount Horeb” (Exodus 33:6). Various Midrashic sources offer different interpretations of how all of these terms refer to one mountain and in the following paragraphs we will explore some of those ideas and how they relate to the holiday of Shavuot.

The mountain is called Har ha-Elokim, “Mountain of God,” because that is where the Jewish people accepted upon themselves the Godhood of the Creator. Additionally, of all the potential mountains on which God may have revealed His glory, Mount Sinai was the most fitting because it had never been previously worshipped by idolaters, while other mountains were, in fact, deified by such people. Moreover, the term Elokim (“Almighty”) as opposed to the Tetragrammaton implies G-d’s trait of judgement, an allusion to the fact that on Mount Sinai, He assumed the role of a “judge” in revealing to the Jewish People all the civil laws of the Torah (i.e. from Exodus 21 and onwards).

Mount Sinai is called Mount Bashan because the name Bashan is a portmanteau of the phrase ba sham (“He came there”), as the commentaries point out that the constants n and are so similar that they are sometimes interchangeable. This phrase speaking about His “arrival” refers to G-d’s arrival at the mountain in anticipation of giving the Torah. Alternatively, the word Bashan is an abbreviation of the word bi-shinav (“with his teeth”) and alludes to the fact that everything which the Jewish people enjoy “with their teeth” (i.e. all material success, typified by agricultural fecundity) is in the merit of their adherence to the Torah.

The name Mount Gavnunim is related to the Hebrew word giben (Leviticus 21:20) which is a blemish that disqualifies a Kohen from service in the Temple (in specific, it refers to abnormally long eyebrows). This is similar to Mount Sinai whose cleanness from idolatry “disqualified” all the other mountains by contrast, rendering them unfit for the giving of the Torah. Alternatively, the Midrash explains that the homiletic similarity between the name Gavnunim and the Hebrew word gevinah (cheese) recalls the fact that at the Sinaitic Revelation, all Jews who suffered any ailment or handicap were miraculously healed. Just as cheese is made by separating the most pristine curds of milk from any impurities (i.e. whey), so were the Jewish people at Mount Sinai in their purest state and nobody had any physical blemishes. Interestingly, some explain that the custom to eat dairy foods on Shavuot is related to Mount Sinai’s alternate name and its comparison to cheese.

Mount Hemed (Har Chemed in Hebrew) is another name for Mount Sinai because G-d desired (chemdah) to dwell His presence upon that mountain in specific. It is also called Mount Horeb (Har Chorev in Hebrew) in allusion to the word cherev (“sword”) and refers to the fact that the Sanhedrin received its right to implement capital punishment from the Torah received at Sinai. Of course, the mountain’s most popular name is Mount Sinai. This alludes to the fact that from that place comes “hatred” (sinah). Opposition to the Jewish people (i.e. “anti-Semitism”) stems from a deep hatred and resistance to the Torah and its values. That antinomian attitude began as opposition to the Jews’ cosmic role assumed at Mount Sinai.

Finally, some versions of the Midrash say that Mount Moriah is another name for Mount Sinai. The Zohar famously explains that Mount Moriah is called so because of the abundance of sweet-smelling Myrrh that is there. This is somewhat problematic because Mount Moriah is understood to be the place upon which the Holy Temple was built—in Jerusalem, not in the Sinai desert! Indeed, Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi (1075–1141), the famous poet and author of The Kuzari, writes in his song Yom Shabbaton, “He spoke through His holiness on the Mountain of Myrrh/You shall remember and guard the Seventh Day”. By writing that the commandments to observe the Sabbath were given on the Mountain of Myrrh, he also implies that Mount Moriah is the same as Mount Sinai. The simplest way of resolving this issue is that there are two different mountains which are both named Moriah. However, some of the most prominent Ashkenazi Kabbalists such as Rabbi Berachiah Baruch Shapiro (d. 1663) and Rabbi Naftali Katz (1649–1718) explain that Moriah and Sinai are actually the same mountain, and when G-d gave the Torah in the Sinai Wilderness, He uprooted the mountain from its regular place in Jerusalem and brought it to the wilderness, only to return it afterwards.




Bamidbar: Dad’s Army ~ Tzvi Abrahams

Parshas בַּמִדְבָּר

Dad’s Army

צַב: covered carriage, turtle

צְבִי: deer, desire, splendor

צָבָה: to swell

צָבָא: army

ה’ צְבָא-וֹת: Lord of legions

צֶבַע: color

מִבֶּן עֶשְׂרִים שָׁנָה וָמַעְלָה כָּל יֹצֵא צָבָא בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל תִּפְקְדוּ אֹתָם לְצִבְאֹתָם
From twenty years and upwards, all who go out to the army in Yisrael, you shall count them according to their legions.

What does it mean to be part of Hashem’s army? By exploring the following related words, we can come to a better understanding of what it means to be privileged to be in Hashem’s army.

צַב: Covered Carriage, Turtle

The Rashbam, in his commentary to Parshas Naso, describes the צַב/covered carriage as something that was made for the army to cover long distances. In order to do this, it must have been made very sturdy, and the specific mention to it being covered points to the צַב being one of the earliest armored cars, something like the modern-day tank. 

The word הַצַב mentioned in the Torah (in Vayikra 11:29) is attributed to the turtle. Although there is no clear mesorah/tradition to this fact in the Talmud, it should come as no surprise that the turtle, with its protective shell, is connected to this idea of being like an armored tank.

צְבִי: Deer, Desire, Splendor

The land of Eretz Yisrael is known as אֶרֶץ צְבִי/the land of desire, because all the goyim desire a piece of the action, since this is the land where the Divine Presence is found.

צָבָה: To Swell

With regards to the Sotah woman, when she drinks the water, it says וְאֶת בִּטְנֵךְ צָבָה/her stomach swells.

צָבָא: Army

We now have three definitions of צַב to help us define more clearly the function of the צָבָא /army: 

צַב/armored, צְבִי/desire, and צָבָה/swell. The army functions in one of three ways: to protect, to pursue one’s desire, and to expand one’s borders.

Naturally, when we think of the army, we envision war, but the opposite is also true: the army can instill a state of peace. When the army fulfills its task of protecting, it also acts as a deterrent against one’s enemies, leaving the country in a state of peace.

Theצָבָא /army in the midbar/wilderness in general functioned in a peaceful way; only with the conquest of the land did it take on the role of pursuing one’s desire, namely the desired Holy Land. In later years, under the rulerships of King David and King Solomon, the army took on the function of expanding its borders.

ה’ צְבָא-ות : Lord of Legions

In order for an army to be successful, it must follow the will and directives of one leader.

On Friday night we say in kiddush: וַיְכֻלּוּ הַשָּׁמַיִם וְהָאָרֶץ וְכָל צְבָאָם/[on the seventh day] the heavens, the Earth, and all the heavenly legions were completed. Hashem is also known as ה’ צְבָא-ות/Lord of legions, i.e., the heavenly legions and the earthly legions. The heavenly legions comprise the angels, sun, moon, and stars, and the earthly legions specifically refer to the tribes of the Bnei Yisrael.

Chazal tell us that all the wars in the world are first fought out in the heavenly realm. What we see in the earthly realm is just a reflection of what occurs in the heavenly realm. Just like the heavenly hosts surround the כִּסֵא הַכָּבוֹד/Holy Throne above, so too the Bnei Yisrael below surround the Mishkan and the Shechinah.

The first stage of the army, as we mentioned above, is for protection. So what are we protecting? Like with any kingship, there is the palace, the palace guards, and the army that surround the palace. So too the camp in the midbar was split up into three sectors: the Israelite camp, the Levite camp, and the camp of the Shechinah. The Levites, who were closer to Hashem, served as the palace guards, and their job was to protect the people from drawing too close, for one who draws too close to the Shechinah dies. 

וְשָׁמְרוּ הַלְוִיִּם אֶת מִשְׁמֶרֶת מִשְׁכַּן הָעֵדוּת
And the Levi’im will guard the watches of the Mishkan of Testimony.

Just like the Levi’im are on guard duty below, so too הַכּוֹכָבִים בְּמִשְׁמְרוֹתֵיהֶם בָּרָקִיעַ/the stars are on watch in the sky.

When standing on guard duty, the army stands at attention. The words נִיצַב/standing and מַצַב/position are related to צָבָא/army in the following way: When Eliezer is sent to choose a bride for Yitzchak, he stood by the spring, and in Yaakov’s dream Hashem is standing upon the ladder. In both instances it is not just an ordinary standing, but rather a standing that has purpose in position to something. Likewise, when we feel strongly about something, we use the terminology of “standing for one’s principles.” So too the army, when it is in a state of מִשְׁמֹר/guarding, it stands at attention, i.e., with strength and conviction. Similarly, a מַצֵבָה/matzeivah/tombstone is a stone that has been designated as a monument to stand upon the grave.

In order for the army to succeed, everyone must know his place. The army is made up of the צִיבּוּר/the community. Although it is one community, it is subdivided into groups, each with its own תַּפְקִיד/purpose. Just like a regular army is split into divisions of infantry, cavalry, navy, air force, etc., so too Hashem’s army is comprised of different tribes, each with its own flag, distinctive color, and position around the camp, where each tribe had its own mission.

צֶבַע: Color

Although each tribe had its own unique צֶבַע/color, corresponding to the colored stones of the Kohen Gadol’s breastplate, everyone still had a common uniform. The Midrash says that one of the four reasons why the Bnei Yisrael were redeemed from Mitzrayim was because they didn’t change their dress. The Jew is easily distinguished from the goyim through his dress. If we don’t wear the uniform, it is a sign that we are assimilated, and, evidently, we would never have left Mitzrayim. In order for an army to be successful, one must have a uniform, for the uniform helps to divest oneself of one’s individual identity that otherwise causes separation and instead allows one to become part of the whole.

Once we know our place in the army, we can then move on to the second stage of pursuing a desire. Hashem’s desire was for us to conquer the Land of Israel, define its borders, and restore the Shechinah to its proper place in Yerushalayim in the Beis HaMikdash, which, being at the center of the universe, functions to reunite heaven and earth. Once Hashem would be in His proper place, and once there would be a connection between heaven and earth, then there would also be a greater connection between the Heavenly hosts and the physical army below. 

We are now ready for the third stage, the expansion of borders, as was seen with King David and King Solomon. The purpose of expansion is to bring the ultimate goal of spreadingעֹל מַלְכוּת שָׁמַיִם /the yoke of Hashem’s heavenly kingship to this earthly realm. This is the ultimate goal of creation, as we say:
בַּיום הַהוּא יִהְיֶה ה’ אֶחָד וּשְׁמוֹ אֶחָד/on that day Hashem will be one and His name will be one.

So where do we stand in Hashem’s army? Do we concede to a higher force? Do we follow orders without question? Are we aware of our position? What are we protecting? What are we fighting for (eternity)? Are we trained in using our weapons of combat? What are our weapons of combat? Who is our enemy (our ego, the yetzer hara)? What are we willing to die for? Do we desire what Hashem desires?

If we want to be part of Hashem’s master plan of world sovereignty and be successful as an army, then it is imperative that we follow orders. Hashem’s army is therefore comprised only of tzaddikim, the ones who follow His directives. Anyone on the frontline who was scared that his sins might cause him to be killed in battle was ordered to leave. For this reason, anyone below the age of twenty was not yet considered to be army material in that he wasn’t equipped with a mature seichel to be able to conquer his yetzer hara. So we learn from here that in order to be victorious on the battle field, we first have to be victorious over our inner struggle. Only after we have done battle with our egos and have divested ourselves of our selfish identities can we succeed in losing our individuality and become part of the whole. Then, having broken down the barriers separating us from our Father in Heaven, we truly become worthy of being בָּנִים אַתֶּם לַה’/Hashem’s children and can move on to the higher goal of being in Dad’s army.

1 Bamidbar 1:3.

2 Chullin 127a.

3 Metzudas David to Yirmiyahu 3–19.

4 See Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch to Bereishis 2:1.

5 Bamidbar 1:53.

6 Rabbi Hirsch to Bereishis 28:13; see also Rabbeinu Bechaya.

7 Rabbi Hirsch to Bereishis 2:1.

8 Midrash Lekach Tov, Pesikta Zutrasa, Shemos 6:6.

9 Kli Yakar to Bamidbar 1:3.




Shavuos: The Mountain of Many Names ~ Rabbi Reuven Chaim Klein

We are all probably familiar with the name of the site of the greatest mass revelation of G-d’s existence—Mount Sinai. However, throughout the Bible that place is variously mentioned under other names. These names include “Mountain of G-d”, “Mount Bashan”, “Mount Gavnunim” (Psalms 68:16), “Mount Hemed” (Psalms 68:17), and “Mount Horeb” )Exodus 33:6). Various Midrashic sources offer different interpretations of how all of these terms refer to one mountain and in the following paragraphs we will explore some of those ideas and how they relate to the holiday of Shavuot.

The mountain is called Har ha-Elokim, “Mountain of God,” because that is where the Jewish people accepted upon themselves the Godhood of the Creator. Additionally, of all the potential mountains on which God may have revealed His glory, Mount Sinai was the most fitting because it had never been previously worshipped by idolaters, while other mountains were, in fact, deified by such people. Moreover, the term Elokim (“Almighty”) as opposed to the Tetragrammaton implies G-d’s trait of judgement, an allusion to the fact that on Mount Sinai, He assumed the role of a “judge” in revealing to the Jewish People all the civil laws of the Torah (i.e. from Exodus 21 and onwards).

Mount Sinai is called Mount Bashan because the name Bashan is a portmanteau of the phrase ba sham (“He came there”), as the commentaries point out that the constants n and m are so similar that they are sometimes interchangeable. This phrase speaking about His “arrival” refers to G-d’s arrival at the mountain in anticipation of giving the Torah. Alternatively, the word Bashan is an abbreviation of the word bi-shinav (“with his teeth”) and alludes to the fact that everything which the Jewish people enjoy “with their teeth” (i.e. all material success, typified by agricultural fecundity) is in the merit of their adherence to the Torah.

The name Mount Gavnunim is related to the Hebrew word giben (Leviticus 21:20) which is a blemish that disqualifies a Kohen from service in the Temple (in specific, it refers to abnormally long eyebrows). This is similar to Mount Sinai whose cleanness from idolatry “disqualified” all the other mountains by contrast, rendering them unfit for the giving of the Torah. Alternatively, the Midrash explains that the homiletic similarity between the name Gavnunim and the Hebrew word gevinah (cheese) recalls the fact that at the Sinaitic Revelation, all Jews who suffered any ailment or handicap were miraculously healed. Just as cheese is made by separating the most pristine curds of milk from any impurities (i.e. whey), so were the Jewish people at Mount Sinai in their purest state and nobody had any physical blemishes. Interestingly, some explain that the custom to eat dairy foods on Shavuot is related to Mount Sinai’s alternate name and its comparison to cheese.

Mount Hemed (Har Chemed in Hebrew) is another name for Mount Sinai because G-d desired (chemdah) to dwell His presence upon that mountain in specific. It is also called Mount Horeb (Har Chorev in Hebrew) in allusion to the word cherev (“sword”) and refers to the fact that the Sanhedrin received its right to implement capital punishment from the Torah received at Sinai. Of course, the mountain’s most popular name is Mount Sinai. This alludes to the fact that from that place comes “hatred” (sinah). Opposition to the Jewish people (i.e. “anti-Semitism”) stems from a deep hatred and resistance to the Torah and its values. That antinomian attitude began as opposition to the Jews’ cosmic role assumed at Mount Sinai.

Finally, some versions of the Midrash say that Mount Moriah is another name for Mount Sinai. The Zohar famously explains that Mount Moriah is called so because of the abundance of sweet-smelling Myrrh that is there. This is somewhat problematic because Mount Moriah is understood to be the place upon which the Holy Temple was built—in Jerusalem, not in the Sinai desert! Indeed, Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi (1075–1141), the famous poet and author of The Kuzari, writes in his song Yom Shabbaton, “He spoke through His holiness on the Mountain of Myrrh/You shall remember and guard the Seventh Day”. By writing that the commandments to observe the Sabbath were given on the Mountain of Myrrh, he also implies that Mount Moriah is the same as Mount Sinai. The simplest way of resolving this issue is that there are two different mountains which are both named Moriah. However, some of the most prominent Ashkenazi Kabbalists such as Rabbi Berachiah Baruch Shapiro (d. 1663) and Rabbi Naftali Katz (1649–1718) explain that Moriah and Sinai are actually the same mountain, and when G-d gave the Torah in the Sinai Wilderness, He uprooted the mountain from its regular place in Jerusalem and brought it to the wilderness, only to return it afterwards.mount-sinai-egypt-moses-1244104-wallpaper.jpg