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Shemos 19:12

והגבלת את העם סביב לאמר השמרו לכם עלות בהר ונגע בקצהו כל הנגע בהר מות יומת

And you shall set boundaries around the nation saying, "be careful not to go up the mountain..."

Shemos 19:23

ויאמר משה אל יהוה לא יוכל העם לעלת אל הר סיני כי אתה העדתה בנו לאמר הגבל את ההר וקדשתו

Moshe said "the nation can't come up, because you warned us to set boundaries around the mountain"

Was the mountain set off limits, or the Jewish people set off limits?

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Haktav V'hakaballah (Exod. 19:12) explains that the mountain was surrounded not the people. When it says והגבלת את העם this refers to making a boundary around the mountain, thus delineating the area where the people were restricted.

R. Eliyahu Mizrahi similarly explains (Genesis 9:11) that the verse in Exodus (19:12) doesn't mean to encircle the nation, but rather to make an encirclement, for the nation.

Ibn Ezra (19:12) similarly explains that verse 12 also means encircling the mountain; not the people.

Netsiv, however, explains (Haamek Davar 19:12) that the two verses refer to two different boundaries. While verse 23 refers to encircling the mountain, verse 12 refers to delineations among the people; Aaron in the front, then the kohanim by rank, then great Yisraelim, then the rest of the men, then the woman and children.

  • See also the start of the intro to the Haamek Davar. – msh210 Dec 25 '18 at 20:11

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