The Weekly Parsha: A New Dimension

by Rabbi Heshy Grossman

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PARSHAS YISRO

MA'AMAD HAR SINAI

"And Moshe took the nation before G-d, from out of the camp, and they stood under the mountain" (Shmos 19,17)

"Amar Rav Avdimi bar Chama bar Chasa: teaching that G-d turned the mountain over their heads as a barrel, and said to them: if you accept the Torah, fine, and if not, there you will be buried." (Shabbos 88a)

Tosafos asks: Klal Yisrael had willingly accepted the Torah by proclaiming 'Na'aseh V'Nishma', why was a further commitment necessary? He answers: After seeing the 'great fire' of Sinai, they may renege on their original assent, hence the need to compel an additional agreement, an unconditional acquiesence.

The Maharal does not accept this response, which implies that the original Kabbalas HaTorah of Klal Yisrael was weak and half-hearted. He advances his own theory, which has become the classic approach to understanding the binding nature of Torah.

In this shiur we will explain why a true acceptance of Torah leaves man with no other option.

1

Unlike other disciplines, which make no demands upon man, the Torah can never be 'take it or leave it'. While the study of science or humanities teaches man about his world, Torah instructs him how to relate to it.

This idea refers to more than the varied commandments distinguishing Torah from secular studies. Rather, the Torah occupies a unique intellectual orbit, captivating the mind of its adherents.

Let us explain.

Imagine sitting with a friend, counting a huge sum of money. Your friend excuses himself for a moment, leaving you alone with wads of uncounted cash. A fleeting sensation crosses your mind: Take the money!

Immediately, and shamefully, you reject the thought, knowing that you would never stoop to petty theft.

Let's analyze why.

It's not that you weigh the options, pro and con, and choose the most appropriate behavior. The decision to remain honest comes in form of a command: 'I cannot do that'. It is instructive and binding, and the moral man feels compelled to heed his conscience.

This is Torah. Not information, or subject matter, but as the literal meaning of 'Torah' implies - 'Hora'ah' - instructions and directives.

Were Torah brought to the world as a result of man's acceptance, he would view its commands as optional, subject to his approval. This is not so. Man has no choice. He ignores the Torah at his own peril. The Torah exists, and controls our world, like it or not.

The Mitzvos of the Torah are not suggestions for good living, or opportunities to earn everlasting reward. They are imperatives of nature, the stipulations of existence.

Here's an illustration.

Man is obliged to reflect in his daily life the will of G-d. Ideally, people can point to the righteous man and say: This is what G-d wants, here is the man that G-d created.

Suppose man chooses to disregard this responsibility, and opts for a life of sin and indulgence. He imagines that he has freed himself from the Torah's onerous demands, denying the unique relationship shared by all those who stood under Har Sinai.

His reprieve is only temporary. Ultimately, when he is punished, or pursuit of life's pleasures have lead to a dead end, he lies broken and humbled, while people point to him and say: You see, that's what G-d doesn't want.

The very message he hoped to ignore resounds with full force, but this time, rather than joyfully fulfilling his G-d-given task, performing the Mitzvos that reveal G-d's will, he is the hapless victim of his own sin, a passive tool upon which Divine wrath materializes in full force.

The Jew is enjoined to reveal G-d's will. There is no escape. The Torah was brought to the world on the backs of Klal Yisrael, and through them it finds expression. For better or worse, they are the vehicles by which G-d's plan for mankind takes physical form.

2

The Torah describes a very strange punishment for the man who forcibly rapes an innocent girl.

"And the man who lied with her should give the father of the girl fifty silver coins, and she should be to him for a wife, because he has afflicted her, he is prohibited from sending her away for the balance of his life" (Devarim 22, 29)

The money is a fine, payable to the father, but as for the deed itself, the man is obliged into a permanent marriage (only with the woman's consent) with his victim.

Let this serve as example. Whenever the Torah's dictates seems to conflict with human sensibilities, be assured that the Torah is addresing a deeper level of truth.

The Maharal explains the reasoning of this command.

Usually, the matrimonial bond between man and woman, though strong and enduring, can still be broken. Because their relationship is initiated by consent, their attachment is only as strong as the commitment that is its basis.

An act of force, defined in and of itself, reflects an element of necessity and absoluteness. Irregardless of the personal debauchery of the perpetratror, the definitive moment in this couple's relationship was one of 'no option'. Hence, their marriage reflects this bond, forever entwined.

Perhaps this puzzling concept is more easily understood when we realize that it is a paradigm, a symbol of the metaphysical relationship between G-d and the Jewish people, wedded for eternity at the foot of Har Sinai.

The Torah is the bond between man and G-d, enabling mortal man to actualize in his life the G-dly essence that is the soul of his existence. It is G-d's will that this connection be eternalized, and He sets the stage to ensure that it will never be broken.

Despite the fact that Klal Yisrael is destined to stray, G-d will hold Himself back, guaranteeing His permanent commitment to the covenant of Sinai. As a man who forces himself upon his future spouse, Hashem coerces the B'nai Yisrael to acept His entreaties, and Klal Yisrael joins the collective entity that encapsules all existence: G-d, Torah, and the Jewish people.

3

The Torah is a necessary ingredient for more than just the Jewish people.

In the Torah's haste to announce the arrival of the B'nai Yisrael at Sinai, their travel itinerary is reversed, and their approach to Sinai is listed before the departure from Refidim, their previous stop.

The Ohr HaChaim explains that intense anticipation often skews straight thinking. The entire world has been waiting for this moment, the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people, hence, the lack of order when they finally arrrive.

What is meant by saying that the world, G-d included, has been anxiously awaiting?

G-d has a plan and purpose for creation. The universe is not a big theme park, with varied pleasures and entertainments designed for man's amusement. The world has one source and goal, and is heading steadily towards fulfillment, with an underlying unity that will not be denied.

The Torah is that goal. Until the Torah was given, the world was a void of empty matter, an undefined mass, Tohu.

Have you ever paused in the midst of a rush-hour traffic jam and wondered: where is everybody going? Could it be that everyone spends their entire lives in the mindless pursuit of enough money to purchase another car, to take them to their new home, and back to work to pay for them?

The Torah gave all the world meaning and purpose, elevating life beyond the daily grind for sustenance and survival. The opportunity to identify with the Divine plan for eternity grants every item in creation a portion of existence.

The continued existence of the world lies hanging in the balance, waiting for Klal Yisrael to stand under the mountain. If they are to accept, fine, if not, the world will bury us all.

Though the tablets given to Moshe Rabbeinu were hidden long ago, it is Ma'amad Har Sinai that we are urged to remember.

The fire of Sinai consumed all the world, silencing all resistance. No sound was heard, other that the One voice that counts, echoing still:

"Anochi Hashem Elokeicha Asher Hotzesicha MeiEretz Mitzraim MiBais Avadim"

Any questions or comments? Please address them to grossman @actcom.co.il

This shiur is now available on the internet at:
http://www.shemayisrael.co.il/parsha/dimension/index.htm


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