Monday, June 6, 2011

[KollelH blog] Kabalas HaTorah

"Moshe brought the people forth from the camp toward Hashem, and they stood under the mountain." (Yisro 19:17)

The Gemara brings a statement in Maseches Shabbos (88a) that Hashem, during Kabalas HaTorah, held Har Sinai over the Jews and forced acceptance of the Torah. One familiar with the basic storyline is struck with a glaring question: The Jews had already declared their commitment to Hashem with the utterance "Na'aseh v'Nishmah," ("we will do and we will hear"). Why should Hashem "force" the Jewish people into a situation after the Jewish people had already confirmed their relationship with Hashem and the Torah in no uncertain terms? Further, framing acceptance of the Torah in this context would only seem to take away from the Jews independent kabalah!

No ink has been spared on this question. One answer generally brought by chazal is that of Tosafos, that Hashem was concerned that that the Jews would change their minds out of fear upon experiencing the awesome spectacle at Har Sinai. Another oft cited opinion is found in Medrash Tanchuma (Parshas Noach) that the declaration of Na'aseh v'Nishmah was made only in connection Torah She'Biksav. The Jews, however, at that time, were not willing to accept upon themselves Torah She'Ba'al Peh and had to be coerced. The Medrash concludes that the ameilus necessary to engage in the limud of Torah She'Ba'al Peh can come about only through ahavas Hashem. Notably, the Gemara says that the Jews lovingly 're-accepted' the Torah after the events of Purim.

I would like to propose another approach to answer why the Torah was given with the "mountain over our heads" that is perhaps more relevant to our generation than ever before:

The Rambam enumerates 13 ikkarim - known as 'the 13 ani ma'amins' - that one must fully believe and accept in order to be considered a religious Jew. Rabbi Yaakov Weinberg, in his discussion of the 1st of the ikkarim, explains that one must believe and internalize the absoluteness of Hashem. (article available at The Rambam (explained by Rabbi Weinberg) maintains that the truth of the Torah itself depends upon its being derivative from an absolute source.
Without an objective source for Torah ideals, any ethical system can be judged in terms of modern day  thinking. One could not otherwise explain seeming inconsistencies such as why it is one of the "big 3 aveiros" to murder, and yet a Torah commandment to kill Amalek. After all, one may argue, it is unfair to hold Amalek's descendants accountable for their ancestor's actions at the time of Yetzias Mitrayim. The absolute objectivity of the Source of our religion explains why we calibrate ourselves to the Torah rather than judge the Torah by modern day standards.

I would like to introduce a thought based on something I once heard from R' Yitzchak Berkowitz. Throughout history, there were generally accepted societal ideals despite rationalizations that may have been employed to justify contrary modes of conduct; As is often said, one does not have to be a triangle to teach geometry.

By contrast, one does not have to look very far into the headlines of today to see that the average person growing up has no way to distinguish right from wrong, good from bad, appropriate from inappropriate or even what values one should prioritize. (See articles "UN Document Would Give 'Mother Earth' Same Rights as Humans .)
Therefore, the Torah had to be given with the mountain "over our heads" (whether midrashim are meant to be taken literally is beyond the scope of this dvar torah); it had to be muchrach. Indeed, the Jewish people had already committed themselves. However, if our acceptance of the Torah was based solely on our kabalah, the introduction of Torah to the world, and to the Jewish people, would have historically been tied to the acknowledgement of a nation at a given point in time. There would be room for the argument that their acceptance was appropriate for the time, but, after all, times have changed!

Accordingly, the introduction of the Torah into creation had to indicate that Torah is intrinsically 'absolute'. Not originating or dependant upon the approval of mankind. Rather the Torah is an objective source of truth from Hashem, to be referred to by all people of all origins in any generation, independent of the Jews' acceptance at that time.

May we be zocheh to once again to adjust ourselves and our mindsets to the priorities and ideals of the Torah and be Mekabel the Torah b'ahavah this Shavuos!

Gut Yom Tov! {M.R.}

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Posted By KH to KollelH blog at 6/07/2011 12:41:00 AM

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