VORTIFY YOURSELF


From
Rabbi Yosil Rosenzweig
e-mail yosilr@juno.com

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Parsha Mishpatim

Torah Reading Shemot 21:1 - 24:18
Haftorah - Isaiah 66:1 - 24

Mishinichnas Adar Marbim L'Simcha - When the month of Adar enters, our joy is increased. This Vort is dedicated to my daughter Devorah Bluma who will celebrate her Bat Mitzvah this Shabbat, Rosh Chodesh Adar 1. May she always be a source of Nachas to her family and the nation of Israel everywhere.

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One of the greatest events in Jewish history was documented in last week's Torah portion: Hashem giving the Torah to the entire nation of Israel at Mt. Sinai. This week, Parshat Mishpatim begins with the Jewish civil laws dealing with the many aspects of living together as a community. At the end of our Parsha the Torah suddenly returns to the day BEFORE the revelation on Mt. Sinai. Last week, we discussed the concept of Ayhn Mukdam U'mi'uchar Batorah (there is NO chronological order to the Torah). This week again we see events unfolding in the Torah that do not necessarily follow a chronological order. Why?

The simple answer is that the whole Torah, not only the rituals of Judaism is binding upon us. Describing the Sinai revelation out of sequence stresses this point to us. This concept is reinforced by the famous declaration in Chapter 24:7 of our Parsha,

"He [Moshe] took the Book of the Covenant and read it in earshot of the people, and they said, 'Na'aseh V'nishma - we will do and then we will obey."

In other words, first we accept the Torah in its entirety (without investigating all of its laws), then we will obey and cherish all of these laws.

There is a beautiful Sifri (Midrashic commentary) in Devarim (343) that details the process of the Israelites acceptance of the Torah.

"When Hashem revealed Himself to give the Torah, He revealed Himself not only to the B'nai Yisrael but to all other nations as well.

First Hashem went to the Children of Esau. He asked them: 'Will you accept the Torah?' They said right to His face: 'What is written in it?' He said: 'You shall not murder.' They replied: 'Master of the Universe, this goes against our grain. Our father, whose 'hands are the hands of Esau (B'rayshit 27:22),' led us to rely only on the sword, because his father (Yitzchak) told him, 'by your sword shall you live (B'rayshit 27:40).' Therefore, we cannot accept Your Torah.'

He then went to the children of Ammon and Moab, and asked them: 'Will you accept the Torah?' They said right to His face: 'What is written in it?' He said: "You shall not commit adultery." They replied:

'Master of the Universe, our very origin is in adultery, for it is written,

"And so were the daughters of Lot with child by their father (B'rayshit 19:36)." Therefore, we cannot accept Your Torah.' He then went to the children of Ishmael, and asked them: 'Will you accept the Torah?' They said right to His face: 'What is written in it?' He said: "You shall not steal." They replied: 'Master of the Universe, it is in our nature to live off what we steal and what is gotten by assault. Of our ancestor Ishmael it is written, "And he shall be a wild-ass of a man, and every man's hand against him (B'rayshit 16:12)." Therefore, we cannot accept Your Torah.'

There was not a single nation among the nations to whom Hashem did not go, speak, knock on its door, asking whether it would be willing to accept the Torah.

At long last He came to Israel and asked them: 'Will you accept the Torah?' They said, "We will do and we will obey (Shemot 24:7)."

Of Hashem's successive attempts to give the Torah, it is written, "Hashem came to Sinai - having shone forth to them at Seir [with the children of Esau] and having appeared at Mt. Paran [with the children of Ishmael], finally approaching the holy myriads [the children of Israel] - from His right hand He presented the fiery Torah to them (Devarim 33:2)."

However, the Talmud adds another aspect of our acceptance of the Torah:

"And they stood under the mountain (Shemot 19:17)." Rav Avdimi bar Chama said: The verse implies that the Holy One held up the mountain over them, like an inverted cask and said to them: If you accept My Torah, it is well; if not, your grave will be right here! (Gem ara Shabbat 88a)

How can this be ? On one hand we are praised by the Sifri for accepting the Torah without questioning its contents, and on the other hand, the Talmud claims that Mt. Sinai was uprooted and about to be dropped on the heads of the nation, burying them in that place. What choice did they have? Who would have or could have chosen otherwise?

The answer is that we didn't have a choice. The mountain held over us is symbolic of the fact that without our willingly accepting the Torah, there would be no nation of Israel, there would be no "People of the Book," "Chosen People," or, "Light unto the Nations." For all intents and purposes, without accepting the Torah, a mountain could have fallen upon us and history would never have recorded our presence at all. Our distinction as a nation lies not in our skills as doctors, lawyers, accountants, film directors, finance ministers, presidential advisors or philosophers. Our uniqueness is found in our holiness, our message to the world, our strength in the face of disaster. A secular Jewish nation void of Torah, will be buried without a trace, in its own arrogance.

Great nations and civilizations have come and gone like shifting sands on the shoreline. But Israel, insignificant former slaves, the smallest of nations, radically changed a pagan world into one that has come to acknowledge Hashem, and did so not by might or by force, but through the power of Na'aseh V'nishma.

Na'aseh V'nishma - we will do and then we will obey, is our anthem and the source of our power. The Gemara tells us that when Hashem heard the B'nai Yisrael's response, He exclaimed,

"Who revealed this secret to My children, the secret of the angels?" King David commented on this angelic distinction when he wrote in the Book of Psalms "...for the angels have the same order of priorities, they are called, strong warriors who DO His bidding to OBEY His word (Psa lm 103:20)."

Na'aseh V'nishma - we will do and then we will obey, is the greatness of Am Yisrael. The Torah's placement of Na'aseh V'nishma in our Parsha after the recounting of Jewish civil law (the Mitzvot dealing with slavery, lending money, concern for the helpless, the judicial system) emphasizes that the whole Torah, not just the Ten Commandments is important and relevant to all Jews.

While we may not always live up to that standard of Na'aseh V'nishma, it remains our heart and soul, our saving grace, our raison d'etre. May we strengthen ourselves to reinforce this aspect of our spiritual makeup through the performance of Mitzvot, the rituals, the meaningful insights, even the mundane everyday civil laws between man and his fellow man, and those many Mitzvot that we do not comprehend, but are a reflection of His will.

Na'aseh V'nishma - to do and to obey, remember the message, for it is the source of our longevity. Without it - we might as well have been buried alive.


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