Mishpatim: No Chickening Out
Harav Yonah Burr
ויקח ספר הברית ויקרא באזני העם ויאמרו: כל אשר דבר ד' נעשה ונשמע
He (Moshe) took the Book of the Covenant and read it in earshot of the people, and the said, “Everything that Hashem has spoken, we will do and we will obey!”
This week’s Parsha continues with the theme of our accepting the Torah at Sinai, describing the enthusiastic acceptance and readiness of the people to do whatever Hashem would ask of them.
The Gemara (Berachos 32b) records an amazing dialogue between Hashem and the Jewish People:
Hashem says to Klal Yisroel, “I will never forget the sacrifices and service that you performed for me in the wilderness”.
“But Hashem," we respond, "if you never forget, perhaps you will also remember, forever, the Golden Calf?"
Hashem responds, “That -- I plan to forget.”
We persist. “Then, perhaps, you will forget about when we accepted the Torah!”
Hashem reassures us, “the Golden Calf, I will forget. But, your enthusiastic acceptance of the Torah, I will never forget!”
Indeed -- this "enthusiastic acceptance" by saying those famous, fateful words, נעשה ונשמע, has sustained us through our entire existence.
But we are also aware of another Gemara, in Shabbos (88a). It states that Hashem had to lift the mountain above our heads, threateningly, to coerce us to accept the Torah! It appears that our acceptance was driven, not by love and passion, but by fear and duress.
The Baalei HaTosafos try to reconcile this blatant contradiction. They explain that at the time that we expressed our genuine readiness to enter Hashem's covenant and accept the Torah, we had not yet witnessed the awesome fire of Har Sinai. Our Sages tell us that we were so overwhelmed by this sight that our souls actually left our bodies and we had to be resurrected! There was a risk that the passionate desire we felt for the Torah dissipate and vanish when we saw the awesome spectacles of that momentous event. Perhaps, we would "chicken-out" -- and rescind our commitment! Hashem held us under the mountain, conclude Tosafos, to make sure we would not waver...
But this only advances the question. Did we really accept the Torah willingly -- or were we forced?
Rabbeinu Yonah in his famous work, Sha’arei Teshuva, writes that when someone sincerely resolves to do something, the Torah considered him to have already done it. He further writes that if one firmly resolves to do whatever he may be asked without even knowing what he is accepting, he, too, is rewarded in advance as if he has already done it.
The Jews were commanded on the first of Nissan to have a Korban Pesach ready on the 10th of Nissan. It was still 10 days until they were to execute the command. Still, the Torah describes them immediately as having fulfilled the command -- because they committed to it!
This, Rabbeinu Yonah explains, is what made our acceptance of the Torah so special. We were prepared to do whatever we were asked before we even knew what it would be.
Perhaps, we can now understand a deeper meaning in Tosfos' words.
By accepting the Torah willingly, with devotion and commitment, not even knowing what we were accepting -- we were considered as if receiving the Torah right then, and, as a result, we merited "Divine Assistance" to follow through on our commitment. Hashem did not force us -- he just helped us do what we had already said we would do.
This is a life lesson. If we sincerely express a desire to do the right thing, Hashem will treat us as if we already did it, and ensure that it actually happens!
Have a wonderful Shabbos.