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I believe this to be the correct translation. So, why wouldn't G-d just strike them down with lightening bolts or something, if he can do anything? Why does he insist on having an army to defend the mountain so no one can see him?

  • That is not a correct translation. The prohibition is against touching the mountain. If I may, I would suggest a natural explanation by asserting that the mountain was a volcano on the west coast of Saudi Arabia. The Jew's were instructed to keep their distance so auto avoid falling rocks or debris from the eruption. – Baby Seal May 25 '17 at 3:18
  • @BabySeal How is that possible? The Jews never stepped foot into Saudi Arabia. (See bottom Tosfos on Erchin 15a where they assert, based on various difficulties with the Gemara there, that Klal Yisrael entered and exited the Yam Suf on the same coast, just further down the beach.) Second, if it's a danger issue, why would it become permissible later on? And third of all, the passuk also prohibits the animals to graze on the mountain for as long as it's prohibited. Grass doesn't grow on volcanoes. – DonielF May 25 '17 at 11:41
  • @donielf this would disagree with tosafot, which is based on an aggadata gemara, a midrash. The prohibition was lifted because the eruption ended after matan torah. And the passuk mentions no such thing about the animals, it just says that they will get pelted. There is a later passuk that says they cant graze near the mountain. – Baby Seal May 25 '17 at 17:09
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    @BabySeal And because it's agadeta we can say it doesn't matter? Tosfos take that Gemara literally. They're discussing history, not abstract concepts. And your "natural explanation" is that a volcano suddenly became active for four days and then went dormant again? No. This is not a warning - this is a punishment. Rosends got it right. – DonielF May 25 '17 at 17:43
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    May I ask why you limit the question to this case? Why not ask in general why we have a death penalty when HaShem can kill them - especially since, considering how rare it is that a person will be killed in Beis Din, that's pretty much what happens anyway. – DonielF May 25 '17 at 17:46
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The issue derived from the verse

No hand shall touch it, for he shall be stoned or cast down; whether man or beast, he shall not live. When the ram's horn sounds a long, drawn out blast, they may ascend the mountain.

Seems to be not one of defense, but of legal culpability as the two methods of death refer to 2 technical types of death penalty. As Rashi indicates,

From here [it is derived] that those liable to death by stoning are [first] cast down from the stoning place, which was as high as two heights [of a man]. — [from Sanh. 45a] cast down-Heb. יִיָרֶה, shall be

The Chizkuni brings out a different reason for specifying these 2 types of death penalty:

“you must not touch him;” (the offender in order to pull him back) rather he shall be killed by stoning or by shooting arrows at him, but he must not be touched by human hand in order to be brought before a court of law to be dealt with. The Torah adds therefore that his death should occur without humans touching him. This prohibition applies equally to the Israelites’ beasts. If you were to ask why ascending the mountain is a worse offense than killing such a person by stoning him while ascending? The reason is that if the offender were to be killed through human action, the party touching that body, dead or alive, would also be considered as having personally touched that Mountain, whose holiness is such that it must not be touched by human bodies.

Other commentators (such as the Daat Zekeinim and the Rashbam) agree -- this is about the technical form of the death penalty imposed by the court, not a defense mechanism.

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