At the beginning of Moshe’s oration to the Jewish people in the book of Devarim, he says to them:1 “G-d, our L-rd, spoke to us at Chorev (Sinai), saying: ‘Very much have you dwelt near this mountain. Turn around and head toward the Emorite highlands… Behold, I have placed the land before you. Come occupy the land….’ ”
In one of his comments on the phrase “Very much have you dwelt,” Rashi2 notes: “Very much greatness and reward have you received for dwelling at this mountain — you made the Mishkan , menorah and vessels [for the Mishkan]; you received the Torah; you established judges, leaders of thousands and leaders of hundreds.”
However, the Jews first received the Torah, then established judges, and only then erected the Mishkan. Why does Rashi change the order of these events? Another question: why does Rashi single out the menorah from all the vessels in the Mishkan ? Why not simply refer to “the Mishkan and its vessels”?
There is yet another puzzling matter: The entire subject of G-d’s directive to “turn around, etc.” is not even mentioned in the book of Bamidbar, which deals explicitly with the journey from Sinai. Why is this directive mentioned only in Devarim ?
The reason this information is included in Devarim is that Moshe wished at this point to remind the Jews of the course of events, beginning with the time they accepted the Torah at Sinai until the time he addressed them. His point was that G-d had wanted the Jews to enter Eretz Yisrael soon after receiving the Torah; it was only because of the sin of the spies that they were forced to remain in the desert for 40 years.3
In order to help emphasize this point, Rashi explains that Moshe made note of three things the Jews achieved at Sinai, “you made the Mishkan , menorah and vessels [for the Mishkan]; you received the Torah; you established judges, leaders of thousands and leaders of hundreds” — specifically, these events and objects, in this order:
Before the Jews entered their own land and adopted a lifestyle similar to other nations, it was necessary for Moshe to caution them against forgetting their uniqueness.
Moshe therefore had to reinforce the Jews’ feeling of being “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation,”4 so it would become so deeply ingrained within the people that, even upon entering Eretz Yisrael, they would remain “a special treasure among all nations.”5
This is also why the Jews dwelt at Sinai — it was then that they became a complete “holy nation,” something that involved three general factors:
The main reason for the Jews having to become a holy nation — “You must be holy for I am holy”6 — was because G-d in all His holiness dwelt in their midst. This indwelling was accomplished through the Mishkan and its vessels, which served as a constant residence for G-d’s holiness.
Since the emphasis here was on the indwelling of G-dliness that permeates the Jewish people even after they settle in their land — a holiness that differentiates them from all other nations — Rashi therefore singles out the menorah, which served as “a testimony to the entire world that the Divine Presence resided among the Jewish people.”7
Thereafter comes the fact that “you received the Torah,” i.e., that the uniqueness of the “holy nation” achieved through the indwelling of the Divine Presence in the Mishkan sanctifies the daily conduct of the Jews. This is accomplished by accepting G-d’s Torah and living according to its teachings and lessons, applying them to one’s daily life.
And in order to clearly know the teaching of the Torah, it was necessary to appoint judges, who taught the Jews not only the Torah itself, but also its practical applications in their daily lives.
Based on Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XXIV, pp. 12-17
1. Devarim 1:6-8.
2. Ibid., based on the Midrash.
3. See Rashi, Devarim 1:2.
4. Shmos 19:6.
5. Ibid., verse 5.
6. Vayikra 19:2.
7. Rashi , Vayikra 24:3.