Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Shavuos V - Na'aseh v'Nishma - acceptance of obligation to observe mitzvos

Viewing the Revelation at Sinai as a process of conversion - Rav Moshe Feinstein (Igros Moshe(Y.D. 3:112)) suggested that the proclamation of na'aseh v'nishma (we will do and then understand) was the act of accepting the obligation to observe the mitzvos. This post is devoted to understanding this act - which is widely praised and yet little understood.

1) The beginning of the riddle is that this statement appears in the Torah after the giving of the Torah.

Shemos(24:7): “And Moshe took the Book of the Covenant and read it in the hearing of the people and they said that whatever G-d tells us we will do and then we understand…” The parallel statement prior to the giving of the Torah was Shemos (19:8): And all the people answered together and they said that all that G‑d says we will do. And Moshe brought back the word of the people to G‑d.

Rashi (Shemos 24:1) resolves the issue by saying the Shemos(24:7) was actually said prior to the Giving of the Torah – and that the verse was not recorded in chronological sequence. However the Ramban (Shemos 24:1) disagrees with Rashi and asserts that Shemos (24:7) was just the repetition after the Giving of the Torah – the declaration that they had said prior to the Giving of the Torah. Ohr Hachaim (Shemos 24:1) indicates the majority opinion rejects the view of the Ramban and accepts Rashi’s view. Nevertheless the Chazon Ish accepts the view of the Ramban.

2) This declaration is understood to indicate total willing subservience to G‑d – and yet our Sages tell us that G‑d threatened to kill the Jews if they didn’t accept the Torah at Sinai.

Shabbos (88a): When the Jews readily accepted the Torah by saying na’aseh v’nishma (we will do what ever you want even before understanding why) , 600,000 angels came and tied two crowns on the head of each Jew—one for the na’aseh and one for the nishma….When the Jews said na’aseh v’nishma, a heavenly voice proclaimed, ‘Who revealed to my children this profound secret that is characteristic of angels?’

Shabbos (88a): R’ Eliezer said that when Israel said “we will do” before they said “we will understand” a bas kol issued forth saying, “Who reveal this secret to My children that the angels utilize.” The proof that this is the guiding principle for angels is Tehilim(103:20),”Bless G‑d you his angels you might ones who do His word – listening the sound of His words.” First the verse says they do His word and then it says they listen.

Mechilta D'Rashbi (19:17): They encamped at the mountain – this teaches that G‑d threatened them with the mountain and said that if they accept the Torah it will be good otherwise that they would be buried there. At that moment of being threatened all of them moaned and poured out their hearts like water in repenting. They then said that all that G‑d says we will do and obey. Then G‑d said He needed guarantors. He rejected the Heaven and Earth as well as the Patriarchs but he accepted the children as guarantors…

3) Our Sages tell us that because the Torah was forced on us we were not obligated to keep the Torah until years later because of the events of Purim when Jews willing accepted the Torah.

Shabbos (88a):[Soncino translation] And they stood under the mount: R. Abdimi b. Hama b. Hasa said: This teaches that the Holy One, blessed be He, overturned the mountain upon them like an [inverted] cask, and said to them,’If ye accept the Torah, ‘tis well; if not, there shall be your burial.’ R. Aha b. Jacob observed: This furnishes a strong protest against the Torah. Said Raba, Yet even so, they re-accepted it in the days of Ahasuerus, for it is written, [the Jews] confirmed, and took upon them [etc.]: [i.e.,] they confirmed what they had accepted long before. Hezekiah said: What is meant by, Thou didst cause sentence to be heard from Heaven; The earth feared, and was tranquil: if it feared, why was it tranquil, and if it was tranquil, why did it fear? But at first it feared, yet subsequently it was tranquil, And why did it fear? — Even in accordance with Resh Lakish. For Resh Lakish said: Why is it written, And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day; What is the purpose of the additional ‘the’? This teaches that the Holy One, blessed be He, stipulated with the Works of Creation and said thereto. ‘If Israel accepts the Torah, ye shall exist; but if not, I will turn you back into emptiness and formlessness.’

4) The gemora itself indicates that an acceptance without full understanding is problematic

Shabbos(88a): There was a certain heretic who saw Rava immersed in his studies and Rava’s fingers were under his feet. He was pushing so hard on fingers that blood came out of his fingers. The heretic said to him, “You impetuous people who gave precedence to your mouth over your ears you still retain this quality of impetuousness. You first should have carefully listened [to what G‑d had to offer]. If you were able to accept it only then you should have accepted it – otherwise you should not have accepted it. Rava replied, “We who have the characteristic of integrity it is written in Mishlei (11:): The integrity of the upright shall guide them… However those who are characterized as perverse it says in Mishlei(11:3): but the perverseness of the traitors shall destroy them.”

5) Our Sages explicitly state that the Jews were not sincere when they made the declaration

Tosefta (Bava Kama 7:3): We find that when the Jews were standing at Sinai they wanted to deceive G‑d. When they said regarding the acceptance of the Torah, na’aseh v’nishma (we will do what ever you want even before understanding why) they were being deceptive—as Moshe Rabbeinu noted, (Devarim[i] 5:25–26) “25) And G‑d heard your words, when you spoke to me; and G‑d said to me, I have heard the words of this people, which they have spoken to you; what they have said they said well. 26) Oh that there were such a heart in them, that they would fear Me, and keep all My commandments always, that it might be well with them, and with their children forever!” But how could this be since everything is known to G‑d? It has been stated (Tehilim 78:36–37), “That they lied with what they said to G‑d and their hearts with not with Him and they were not faithful to their covenant—nevertheless G‑d is merciful and forgiving.”

Avoda Zara (5a): [Soncino translation] The following objection was then raised: ‘The verse, O that they had such a heart as this alway that it may be well with them and their children cannot obviously refer to the abolition of the angel of death, since the decree [of death] had already been made? It means therefore that the effect of Israel's acceptance of the Torah would be that no nation or tongue could prevail against them, as it is said, that it might be well with them and their children after them’? He [Resh Lakish] may be of the same opinion as the following Tanna, for it is taught: R. Jose said, The Israelites accepted the Torah only so that the Angel of Death should have no dominion over them, as it is said: I said ye are gods [i.e, immortals] and all of you children of the Most High, now that you have spoilt your deeds, ye shall indeed die like mortals.

[Next posting will be devoted to resolutions of these difficulties]

1 comment :

  1. So what happened to "the next post will be devoted to the resolution of these difficulties"???


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