ט׳ בכסלו ה׳תשע״ד (November 12, 2013)

Yoma 4a-b: Preparing to Enter God’s Presence

As we learned previously, of the Talmud derived the need for a seven-day preparation for the Yom Kippur service from the Torah’s description of the Tabernacle in the desert. An alternative source is suggested by Reish Lakish, who proposes that this rule is derived from the story of Moshe receiving the commandments on Mount Sinai. The Torah describes Moshe as being enveloped by a cloud for six days and entering God’s presence on the seventh day (see Shemot 24:16). This teaches that someone who is about to enter mahaneh shekhinah – the “encampment of God” – needs a week of preparation to do so.

The Gemara quotes a baraita that includes at least one tanna who supports Reish Lakish. Several opinions are presented about the six days that Moshe was in the cloud:

  • Rabbi Yosei HaGelili – These days were the first six of the forty days that Moshe was on the mountain, after he received the ten commandments.
  • Rabbi Akiva – These days began on Rosh Hodesh Sivan, when Moshe was still with the people of Israel. During this time the mountain (not Moshe) was surrounded by a cloud covering.
  • Rabbi Natan – He agrees that they were days of preparation, but only so that the food could be removed from Moshe’s system, bringing him to the level of one of the heavenly angels.
  • Rabbi Matya ben Harash – He also agrees that they were days of preparation, whose purpose was to raise Moshe to a sense of awe and trembling prior to receiving the Torah. The source for this idea is Tehillim 2:11, “serve the Lord with awe, and rejoice with trembling.”

Although Rashi and Tosafot on our daf interpret Rabbi Matya ben Harash’s statement as referring specifically to the experience of the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai, others (see the Tosafot R”i ha-Lavan) apply it to Torah study in general, which is supposed to combine the elements of joy and celebration with trembling and trepidation. The Ritva points out that according to the Gemara in Berakhot it appears that this is a general principle – at every occasion of joy it is important to keep a sense of trepidation, as well.

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