ויסעו מרפידים פרש״י נסיעתם מרפידים בתשובה אבל קודם נסיעתם מרפידים לא היו בתשובה, לקיים דברי רבותינו שנקרא שמה רפידים על שם שרפו ידיהם מן התורה. ויסעו מרפידים, “they journeyed on from Refidim, etc.” according to Rashi, these words mean that the people moved forward spiritually, i.e. that they had repented their conduct once they moved on. All the time they were at Refidim they had not yet repented. [The reader is referred to chapter 18,79 where upon questioning whether the Lord was in their midst, and the subsequent attack by Amalek when they encamped at Refidim as Hjs way of showing them what would happen if He were not in their midst. Ed.] Rabbi Yoshua in the Talmud Sanhedrin, folio 106, understood the word Refidim as an allusion to the people’s having become very weak in their Torah orientation, as a result of which G-d had showed them that His protection of them would weaken accordingly.
ויחנו במדבר מקום הפקר כל הרוצה לקבל יבא ויקבל. ויחנו במדבר, “they encamped in the desert;” the desert is noman’s land, open to all and sundry to make their home there without being legally challenged.
נגד ההר פרש״י למזרחו. אינו אומר בפרש״י במזרחו דאם כן היה משמע שעברו את ההר וחנו במזרחו, ואיך יתכן לומר שעברו את הר סיני קודם מתן תורה. אלא פרש״י למזרחו וה״ק ויחן שם ישראל נגד מזרחו של הר סיני, שהרי משנסעו מאיתם היו תמיד פניהם למזרח עד בואם אל ארץ מואב, כמו שפרש״י בפרשת מסעי. והוא שפרש״י כאן, וכל מקום שאתה מוצא נגד פנים למזרח, והכי איתא במכילתין נגד ההר למזרחו של הר. ועל מה שפרש״י נגד - פנים, חז״ק הרי כתיב מנגד סביב לאהל מועד יחנו. נגד ההר, “facing the Mountain.” (Mount Sinai, also known as Mount Chorev). According to Rashi, the reason for the Torah adding this detail is that it tells us that the Israelites faced East. It is noteworthy that Rashi does not say; במזרחו, “on its eastern side,” but: למזרחו, “facing its eastern side.” Had he written במזרחו, this would have meant that the people had already passed the Mountain. We would have wondered how it was possible that the people had passed the Mountain before receiving the Torah, something G-d had told Moses they would do in Exodus 3,12, in answer to his query why the time for redemption had been advanced so many years over what G-d had said to Avraham at the covenant between the pieces in Genesis chapter 15. We must therefore understand Rashi here as meaning “the people encamped facing theMountain, looking eastward, as they had been doing every time they had made camp, every time since they made camp for the first time at Eytam after they had previously converged together at a place named Sukkot, (Exodus 13,20) They continued facing east when encamping until they came to the steppes of Moav, prior to crossing the Jordan river in a westerly direction. (Compare Rashi on Numbers 34,3) This is what prompted Rashi, based on the Mechilta, that the word נגד when used by the Torah in connection with the Israelites’ journeys always means “eastward.” The only exception is when the people are described in Numbers 2,2, as encamping מנגד סביב לאהל מועד, where it means “opposite,” i.e. the Tabernacle was in the middle of the camp, the tribes camping around it, each group from a different direction.