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    The voice of conscience – Yitro

    Revelation at Sinai, painting by Zely Smekhov

    Revelation at Sinai, painting by Zely Smekhov

    Moses assures God that the people will not break discipline and go up the mountain against Divine instructions (Ex. 19:23). His actual words are, “The people cannot (lo yuchal) go up”.

    The reader can’t understand this. What does Moses mean – they cannot go up? Of course they can. The only thing stopping them is that God said not to.

    But Moses is telling us something quite remarkable – that an Israelite who is not allowed to do something finds that he simply cannot do the forbidden thing. His inner conscience says “no”, and all the instincts in the world cannot allow the prohibited thing to be done.

    The same phenomenon is found at the end of Sh’mot (Ex. 40:35) and in a number of other places in the Torah.

    The notion is that a person simply cannot do what is wrong. Like Joseph, a person is tempted to commit an iniquity. But like Joseph, after all the agonising about the temptation, doing the sin is morally (can one also say, physically?) impossible.

    Our modern minds find this, of course, very difficult to understand.

    Our age is one when everything is a matter of choice, even committing a sin. Every option is a real option.

    Some people deliberately embrace the option of sinning. They defiantly do what they know they have been warned against, and they say, “Look, everyone, there’s no hellfire or brimstone, so it must be all-right to do what I’ve done!”

    Very nice, but surely the voice of conscience has something to say, later if not immediately?

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