Friday, May 22, 2015

Shavuos: Points to ponder

Selections from my Daas Torah

Why were the Jews forced to accept the Torah

Shabbos (88a): And they stood under the mountain - Rav Avdimi said: This verse teaches that G d held the mountain over them like it was a barrel and told them: If you accept the Torah then it is well - but if not then this will be where you are buried. Rav Aha said: This coerced acceptance is a strong justification for not being obligated to keep the Torah. Rava said: Nevertheless they reaccepted the Torah willingly in the days of Achashverus [because of the hidden miracle of Purim and thus the Torah is fully binding on us]…

Tosfos (Shabbos 88a): And the mountain was held over them like a barrel to force them to accept the Torah. Even though they had already accepted the Torah by saying “We will do and then we will understand.” This forced acceptance was necessary because they might have retracted their acceptance when they saw the great fire at Sinai which caused their souls to depart their bodies… But why does the gemora say that the Torah was reaccepted during the days of Achashverus? In fact Nedarim (28a) states that Moshe established a covenant with them and they took an oath to keep it! Furthermore Sotah (37b) says that the Jews reaccepted the Torah at Mt. Grizim and Mt. Eivel [which was still during Moshe’s lifetime]? Rabbeinu Tam answered that these latter events were in response to G d’s commands and thus could be viewed as forced acceptances. However in the time of Achashverus they accepted the Torah because of the love engendered by the miracle of Purim. The other apparent exception is that Yehoshua made a covenant with them to serve G d? However that was only that they agreed not to worship idols [and was thus not a full acceptance of the Torah]…

Na'aseh v'nishma  - acceptance of Torah before understanding

Shabbos (88a): When the Jews readily accepted the Torah by saying na’aseh v’nishma (we will do whatever 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?’

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 whatever you want even before understanding why) they were being deceptive - as Moshe Rabbeinu noted, (Devarim 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.”

Why the Jews received the Torah as a primitive people - not an educated nation?

Chasam Sofer (Derashos - BeShalach): G d took the Jews out of Egypt which was the lowest type of society that did all types of disgusting abominations which G d hated. The Jews at that point were a despised lowly people - not even a distinct nation. In Egypt, they were primitive slaves working with bricks and mortar and were without doubt devoid of even minimal knowledge of culture or science. They even lacked elementary knowledge of civilized conduct. Our sages (Yoma 75b) say that the Jews in Egypt were comparable to chickens pecking in a garbage dump until Moshe came and taught them the concept of meal times - breakfast and dinner. [Seforno - they were like animals]. We see that they were totally primitive like the slaves of the barbarians. So how could this debased people be immediately brought to Sinai where they were shown the most profound secrets of the universe and became prophets with unbounded understanding of spiritual issues? This question is reinforced by the fact that they remained primitive and uncultured people as we can see from their lowly behavior and outrageous complaints during this time? Wouldn’t it have been better to gradually educate them in civilized conduct to the level of the best of the nations of the world. They should have at least been raised to the level where they could be considered a nation. Once they were civilized, they should then have been refined level by level until they were prepared for receiving the Torah at Sinai? In truth, it is impossible to keep the Jews as a distinctive people unless they are completely separated from the other nations. That is accomplished by not learning knowledge which is common to other nations even Bible on the level of translation. The natural tendency to assimilation can only be prevented by going to the opposite extreme. If G d had first educated the Jews in worldly knowledge, they would never have acquired the truth of the Torah and faith. Before they would have reached, this final goal they would have already rejected them because these studies would have given them the universal identity common amongst all the nations. Moreover, even if the Jews had understood that the gods of the nations were worthless illusions and reject them, nevertheless they would also have completely rejected G d also.

Importance of the Redemption from Egypt and Revelation at Sinai

Kuzari (1:25): G d introduced His words to the entire Jewish people by saying that He was their G d Who took them out of Egypt. He didn’t say that He was the creator of the world and the creator of the Jews… Therefore that which obligates all Jews to keep the Torah is the experience of the redemption of Egypt and the revelation of Sinai which was they witnessed with their own eyes and afterwards transmitted through an unbroken chain of tradition through the generations - which is equivalent to actual seeing with one’s own eyes.

Rav S. R. Hirsch (Shemos 19:4): Faith - which is inherently vulnerable to being undermined by doubt - is not the basis of either your awareness of G d or your awareness of yourself. Both are in fact your direct knowledge of that which you have experienced directly through your physical senses. [This verse is describing the direct experience of the Exodus from Egypt]. The exact same idea is expressed later concerning the revelation of Torah - (Shemos 20:19), “You have seen that I have spoken to you from Heaven.” All of Judaism rests upon these two pillars of truth - the Exodus from Egypt and the Revelation of Torah at Sinai. These two pillars stand firmly on your own direct experience with your physical senses which excludes the possibility of deception. They were witnessed simultaneously by 600,000 people. These two pillars both have the highest degree of certainty and are excluded from the realm of mere conjecture or faith. They are in fact in the realm of direct knowledge and are therefore facts which are incontestable in the same way as the indisputable facts that we exist and the physical world exists are incontestable…

Rambam (Yesodei HaTorah 8:1): Moshe Rabbeinu was not believed by the Jews because of the miraculous signs that he did. That is because one who believes because of miraculous signs still has doubts in his heart that perhaps they were done by means of magic or trickery. In fact all the miraculous things that Moshe Rabbeinu did were because they were needed and were not meant to validate his prophecy…The entire basis for belief in Moshe Rabbeinu was the revelation at Sinai which we saw with our own eyes and heard with our own ears - and not those of strangers - the fire, the thunder and the lightning. We witnessed Moshe Rabbeinu entering into the enveloping darkness and heard the voice of G d speaking to him saying, ‘Moshe Moshe go tell them such and such’. Thus, the Torah (Devarim 5:4) says, ‘Face to face G d spoke with you’. Furthermore the Torah (Devarim 5:3) says, ‘G d didn’t make this covenant only with your fathers [but even with us who are all here alive today’]. How do we know that the revelation at Sinai was the necessary and sufficient proof that Moshe’s prophesy was entirely true? The Torah (Shemos 19:9) says, ‘Behold I come to you in a thick cloud in order that people will hear when I speak with you that they may believe in you forever.’ This implies that before they witnessed the revelation, the people had only an imperfect belief in Moshe Rabbeinu that contained doubts and second thoughts…

Rambam (Letter to Yemen): The preserving of the memory of the Revelation at Sinai is a Divine command. He told us not to forget the events at Sinai and He commanded us to raise our children with the awareness of its greatness as well as to teach them its greatness in their studies. This is explicitly stated in Devarim (4:9–10)… It is the correct thing, my brothers, to emphasize to your children this great Revelation at Sinai and to publicly tell them about its greatness and magnificence since the foundation of our faith rests on it and the awareness of it leads to truth. And its greatness is above all else since we see that G d Himself raised it up (Devarim 4:32). My brothers it is therefore critically important that you should know fully about the Covenant and the Revelation at Sinai. Equally important is to know that it has been validated by the most reliable testimony - the like of which never existed before and will not occur again. The entire nation heard the words of G d and they saw His glory directly with their eyes. G d made this happen in order to strengthen our faith to such a degree that it would never waver in times such as now, when there are terrors and pressure to convert, so that we would be able to overcome these horrible pressures…

Faith and not forgetting about the Revelation of Mt. Sinai

Ramban (Sefer HaMitzvos Forgotten Mitzvos Negative #2): And don’t misunderstand what it says in Kiddushin (30a) concerning the requirement of teaching Torah to your children and grandchildren that one should never forget any part of the Torah. Because in fact the learning of faith is learning Torah. Therefore, understand this and take the proof from their words that this requirement not to ever forget about Sinai - is a perpetual mitzva. It is necessary to talk about this in every generation in order for it not to be forgotten. It must be learned to the degree that everyone can see the events at Sinai and can hear them. This information must be carefully transmitted from generation to generation. This mitzva was stated in the Baal Halachos (170) but the Rambam forgot it.

Jewish are inherently skeptical and hard to influence

Rashba (4:234): We learned from our forefathers not to accept something which contains the slightest doubts or uncertainties until it has been thoroughly investigated and the truth is ascertained. This we see concerning the acceptance of Moshe as a true prophet. They were uncertain whether to believe him - even though he came to announce that they were to be rescued from the horrible servitude of Egypt. This is why Moshe said they won’t believe me. This is because it was known that they were inherently skeptical and did not believe anything except that which was unquestionably true. Therefore, even though G‑d did incredible miracles in Egypt until they were taken out with an outstretched arm and awesome events - it was not sufficient to remove the doubts about Moshe from their hearts. These doubts were caused by the fact that all that occurred in Egypt were possibly just coincidental or natural events or from magical powers. Because of these doubts, they did not have unconditional faith in Moshe until the Splitting of the Sea - as the verse says, “that they [now] believed in G‑d and Moshe His servant” (Shemos 14:31). The Targum (Shemos 14:31) says they now believed in the prophecy of Moshe that it was true and was not the result of natural events. This event removed the last vestige of doubt that the miraculous events in Egypt could have been the result of random natural events. It was obviously impossible that the sea could have been split at night and the next day return to its normal state. Therefore, the splitting of the sea removed the doubts from their hearts - for the time being. However soon after the Splitting of the Sea, the doubts returned. They thought perhaps Moshe, who was more knowledgeable than any other man had ever been, knew how to do this by natural means which they couldn’t ascertain. The only remaining option for clarifying the truth of Moshe’s prophecy was by their own prophecy and this is what in fact occurred at the Revelation of Sinai when they final established the truth.

Converts have greater love of Torah than Jews from birth

Rav Tzadok (Machshavos Charutz Chapter 19): R’ Akiva is the foundation of the Oral Law…He had to be a descendant of converts because love of Torah is most manifest in converts. We see that from the fact that despite G‑d’s redemption of the Jews from the slavery of Egypt and making them into a kingdom of priests, when He brought them to Mt. Sinai to get the Torah He had to force them to accept it (Shabbos 88a). Even when they eventually accepted it out of love in the time of Purim - it was because of the love of the miracle and salvation. In contrast, the convert leaves the tranquility of the world and the total freedom to fill his lusts as a non‑Jew. He willing comes to restrict himself and to attach himself to the Jewish people who are lowly and despised in this world. … It is only because of the convert’s love of Torah that he comes close and accepts the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven… Furthermore, we see in Medrash Tanchuma (Noach 3) that the Jewish people had to be forced to accept the Oral Law since it requires so much effort. The only ones who learn it are those that have great love of G‑d with their entire heart and soul - and not someone who loves wealth and pleasure… We see then that G‑d had to force the Jewish people to accept the Oral Law even though in their inner soul they really wanted to accept the Oral Law…Nevertheless in the revealed aspect of this world which is the world of free will and effort - the love of Torah is more manifest amongst converts. Similar Pesachim (91b) states that converts are more careful in their performance of the mitzvos than Jews from birth…. Therefore, Rabbi Akiva who was descended from converts merited being the foundation of the Oral Law. In addition, we see that the description of the acceptance of the Torah was written in the section of Yisro - who was the head of all converts - and manifested great love of Torah. He left his high status and wealth to be in the Wilderness with the Jewish people…

Why was belief in Moshe necessary in addition to belief in Gd

R’ Elimelech of Lizensk (Letter): And they believed in G d and in Moshe His servant (Shemos 14:31). What is the relevance of the Jews believing in Moshe - even though G d promised that this would happen. Isn’t the main issue that the Jews should believe in G d? The fact is that the holy Torah is telling us a major idea that it was absolutely necessary that Moshe be believed. G d’s intent in saving the Jews from Egypt was so that they would accept the Torah. To that end they had to be purified by various trials… and Moshe sanctified himself, reached the highest level of prophecy, ascended Mt. Sinai and then brought the Torah down to the Jews. It is obvious that not all the Jews were on the spiritual level of Moshe to accept the Torah through prophecy. However because they believed in Moshe and attached themselves to him, he was able to able to influence them through ruach hakodesh and it was as if they were on the level of prophecy. Therefore, by means of this attachment and unity with Moshe they were all able to accept the Torah.

Importance of Emunas Chachomim

R’ Moshe Chagiz (Emunas Chachomim 506:61b): The phrase emunas chachomim has two different connotations. Firstly, it means the faith of the chachomim i.e., to have the same beliefs that the sages have. The second meaning is to believe what they say because we see in their actions that their words must be true. This latter view is the emuna of our forefathers as it is written in the Torah, “They believed in G d” [The first meaning] “and His servant Moshe” [which is the second meaning.]. Moreover, in preparation of the awesome assembly at Sinai, G d said to Moshe “Behold I am coming to you in a thick cloud in order that the people can hear My words with you and may also believe in you forever.” That means that they shall consequently believe not only in you, but the prophets that succeed you and the sages throughout the generations who will replace the prophets. Consequently, there is an unbroken chain of emuna.

Rashi (Devarim 11:22): Is it possible to say that a person should cling to G d when He is all consuming fire? Rather it means to cling to Torah students and sages and this is counted as if one is clinging to G d.

Eilu v'Eilu: How could conflicting views be given at Sinai

Ritva (Eruvin 13b): Eilu v’Eilu (both) are the words of the living G d. The Rabbis of France asked: How is it possible that the opposing sides of a dispute can both be the words of the living G d when one says the object is permitted and the other says it is prohibited? They answered that when Moshe received the Torah on Sinai he was shown 49 aspect of prohibition and 49 aspects of permission for each and every issue. G d explained to him that the final decision amongst these different alternatives was given to the sages of each generation. Thus, both permitting and prohibiting were both given on Sinai for each possible case and therefore both sides of the dispute are true. This explanation is correct according to the drash however according to kabbala there is a profound secret in this matter.

Piety and the power of visualization

Kuzari (3:5): The pious person makes his powers of visualization conjure up vivid images of holy things based on information in his memory. He should picture such things as the Revelation at Sinai, Avraham and Yitzchok at the Akeidah, the Tabernacle of Moshe, the service of the Temple and the glory of the Divine Presence in the Temple. He then commands his memory to store these images so that they are not forgotten…

1 comment :

  1. Very fine. I fully agree.
    Allow me to quote the JPS translations to: Exodus 19:10 “And the Lord
    said to Moses, “I will come to you in a thick cloud, in order that the people
    may hear when I speak with you and so trust you ever after.””

    The word trust is more accurate. Trust, in the dictionary is
    “firm belief in the honesty, reliability, etc of another.” We trust in our prophets and religious
    leaders throughout generations, that they are honest with us in what they
    say. The Christians promise Heaven for
    believers in Jesus, even to murderers, if they just “believe.” That kind of belief is nonsense. Our trust in
    Moses is our firm belief that Moses is honest with us.


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