The beginning of chapter 24 of the book of Exodus describes Moshe’s ascent up Mount Sinai, “To Moshe, He said, “Go up to Hashem, you, Aharon, Nadav, and Avihu, and seventy elders of Israel, and you shall prostrate yourselves from a distance.” (Exodus 24:1)
They all ascended Mount Sinai, but only Moshe reached the dense layer of fog near the summit, as the next sentence continues, “And Moshe by himself approached Hashem, and they shall not approach, and the nation shall not go up with him.” (Exodus 24:2) The language of that sentence seems redundant.
The fact that the nation did not go with him is already known since only Aharon, Nadav, and the Elders were permitted to accompany Moshe partially up the mountain. Furthermore, for three days before the receiving of the tablets, Mount Sinai was cordoned off, and the people were prohibited from even touching the base of the mountain. (Exodus 19:12)
In reference to Aharon, Nadav, and the elders; since Moshe alone ascended the Mountain, there should be no need to repeat that they did not go up with Moshe; especially in the very same sentence. Why the special emphasis that only Moshe reached the heights of Mount Sinai?
Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch comments that the people stood afar from the mountain as a result of “living together with the heathen nations, and the allurements of their rites,” in Egypt. There was a gap between the people and their own potential spiritual heights because of the influences of the Egyptian exile. However, Rav Hirsch points out that a few choice members, a “selected elite” among the nation were able to accompany Moshe on part of his ascent up the mountain proves that there was no “specific dividing cleft” between Moshe and the rest of the nation. The point being that Moshe was not inherently different from everyone else.
How then did Moshe become the Tzaddik that he was? How did Moshe become the greatest prophet who spoke with Hashem ‘face to face’ and spent forty days on Mount Sinai without food or water? How did Moshe alone merit to approach the Almighty on Mount Sinai?
Rabbi Hirsch states that “Moshe had no superhuman nature that accounted for the degree of nearness to Hashem which he attained.” Rather, “Moshe was a simple man like all others” From the depths of the moral depravity of Egypt; from living as a youth in the King’s palace, Moshe became a tzaddik. The degree of holiness was not innately part of his being but rather something which Moshe in his own life had managed to develop within himself. The message is that we should emulate Moshe and strive to improve ourselves spiritually; to be the best that we can be. Rav Hirsch concludes, “Everybody is called upon, as being able to try and reach his greatness.”
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