Why Was The Torah Given Outside of Israel?

Judaism likes its mountains. We think of the most basic and fundamental concepts dear to Judaism in terms of mountains. The two main ones that come to mind are Mount Sinai and Mount Moriah. These two each represent a fundamental aspect of Judaism. Mount Sinai represents the Torah, and Mount Moriah represents the interrelated systems of atonement and the Temple. These two are integrally related further as the commandments help train us to not sin, and atonement is there for us when we have.

Given that these two ideas are so mutually inclusive and synchronistic, it is a wonder why God chose to two use two different locations to establish each. Couldn't He have just given us the Torah on the future site of the Temple in Jerusalem? Wouldn't have that brought it all together quite nicely? Imagine it; God takes the Jews out of Egypt, brings them into Israel, and reveals the holiest thing in the holiest place! It seems to make a lot of sense.

Further, in Parashas Terumah, the Ramban explains the relationship between the Aron Hakodesh and Mount Sinai. Effectively speaking, the Aron Hakodesh came to represent Israel and the Temple because it was stored within it. He also says that the Voice speaking from above the Aron Hakodesh was the same one with which God spoke to Moses when revealing the commandments! In effect, this created a portable Mount Sinai that the Jews took with them through the desert on their way to Israel. When they arrived to Eretz Israel they installed the Mount Sinai program on the Beis HaMikdash hardware and could plug in whenever they wanted. They merged both mountains together into one!

Case closed, everybody go home.

However, while this may seem nice and neat, it raises a few serious problems that throw it all apart.

Go Tell It on the Mountain

Issue 1
The Torah is the heart of Judaism and is applicable to the Jews wherever they may live, whether in Israel or anywhere in the world. If God chose to reveal the Torah in Jerusalem, i.e., in Eretz Israel, this might have been taken to mean that the Torah is only applicable when in Eretz Israel. It would have been overpoweringly tempting to come to this conclusion. While the Torah takes on particular properties in Israel, it is applicable to the entire world. Judaism is not relevant only in Israel, but everywhere (and to everybody - see the Noachide Laws).

Issue 2
The second reason is related to the first. If it ever came to pass that the Beis HaMikdash was destroyed, people might come to the erroneous conclusion that the Torah had been abrogated along with it. The converse is true, even after the Beis HaMikdash was destroyed, the Torah continued to be operative for the Jewish People, which is perhaps what the separation between Jerusalem and the Torah was intended to teach.

Issue 3
The third issue is that the land of Israel does not tolerate impurity, as it says in Vayikra, “And let the land not vomit you out for having defiled it, as it vomited out the nation that preceded you.” (18:28) The Jews required spiritual sensitivity training before entering because the Land of Israel is sensitive to the behaviors that take place on its soil. If the Jews had been brought into Eretz Israel without the Torah, they might have sullied it and would not be able to last there even for one moment (אפילו שעה אחת). Therefore, God prepared the Jews by giving them the Torah before entering Eretz Israel.

Issue 4
The fourth issue is that the worship of the Golden Calf was sufficient to wipe out the Jews, which is what God sought to do. If such an annihilation was fitting in the middle of the desert, would have we had a chance at all if we had committed the same sin in Eretz Israel? Food for thought and conjecture, we can suggest that perhaps God avoided this potentiality by giving us the Torah in a place that was less holy and therefore less sensitive to infractions.

Taking into account these reasons (and many more which must exist), God's choice to reveal the Torah outside of Eretz Israel reflected His Will in a way that revealing it in Eretz Israel could not.

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