And the LORD said to Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow. Have them wash their clothes and be ready by the third day, because on that day the LORD will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people.” — Exodus 19:10–11
The Torah portion for this week is Yitro, which means “Jethro,” from Exodus 18:1–20:23, and the Haftorah is from Isaiah 6:1–13.
Last week we read about the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt. This week we come to another monumental event. Two months after the exodus, the children of Israel were encamped at the foot of Mount Sinai. Here, we read about the revelation of God and the giving of the Torah, and we encounter the moment that changed human history and shaped civilization.
But just before God descended on Mount Sinai, the children of Israel, via Moses, were commanded to prepare for this big event: “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow . . . and be ready by the third day, because on that day the LORD will come down . . . in the sight of all the people.” The Israelites had to spend two days getting ready so that on the third day they would be able to receive God and His Word.
As we might imagine, preparing for God’s revelation was not just physical in nature. It was far more than putting on the freshest and nicest clothing after taking a shower. Two days aren’t needed just for that! Rather, it was a spiritual preparedness that was required of the people. From this the Jewish sages learn the following: “There is no holiness without preparation.”
There is an old story about a Japanese emperor who commissioned an artist to paint a bird. Months and years passed by and no painting arrived. In anger and frustration, the emperor stormed into the artist’s home one day, demanding to see what he was paying for. The artist showed him a blank canvass. Then, he proceeded to paint a masterpiece. “Why couldn’t you do that sooner?” demanded the emperor. The artist took out a stack of sketches with wings, heads, and feathers of a bird. “I could not have painted that masterpiece without preparing in advance,” he explained.
Preparation is necessary for any achievement. It’s true in the physical aspects of our lives and it’s true in the spiritual realm as well. Just as we wouldn’t attempt running a marathon without months of training and preparation, we cannot expect to be in peak spiritual shape without sufficient groundwork. If we want to become holy people, worthy of receiving the Lord, we can’t expect to wake up one day and be ready. It takes days, weeks, months, and years of consistent preparation.
How does one prepare spiritually? The same way we would physically. Make a plan and stick to a schedule. Prayer, bible study, and acts of kindness are all character-builders that help with our spiritual preparedness. When we intentionally make these a central part of our daily lives, we will surely be ready on the day of God’s ultimate revelation.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President