After we arrived at Mount Sinai, and before the Torah was given to us, we experienced an inner readiness to fulfill the mitzvos of the Torah and to hear all the Divine instructions regarding the mitzvos. We therefore proclaimed in unison:
“All that Hashem has spoken, we will do, and we will hear!” (Exodus 24:7)
Why, however, did we say, “We will do,” before saying, “we will hear”? Didn’t we first need to “hear” all the instructions regarding the mitzvos before promising that we will “do” the mitzvos? In order to understand why we first expressed our readiness to “do” the mitzvos, we will review the following brief teaching regarding the altruistic raison d’etre of the human being on earth:
The human being was created to serve, as it is written, “Hashem God took the human being and placed him in the Garden of Eden to serve it and to guard it” (Genesis 2:15). As we mentioned previously, the mission to “serve and protect” God’s Garden is a prototype of all the mitzvos of the Torah. The mission to “serve” the Garden is a prototype of the mitzvos which call upon us to engage in actions which nurture and elevate life, while the mission to “guard” the Garden is a prototype of the mitzvos which prohibit actions which damage and degrade life. (Based on Tikunei Zohar 55)
As we, the Children of Israel, stood at Mount Sinai, we became aware that our mission is to serve and protect Hashem’s world through fulfilling the mitzvos of the Torah. We were therefore willing to fulfill the altruistic purpose for which we were created even before we heard the specific instructions! This is why we proclaimed, “We will do,” before proclaiming, “we will hear!”
The Talmud (Shabbos 88a) records the following related teaching in the name of Rabbi Elazar: At the time when Israel said, “We will do” before they said, “We will hear,” the Heavenly voice went forth and said of them, “Who revealed to My children this secret that is used by the angels of service?” He then cites the following verse which indicates that the angels are ready to “do” before they “hear,” as it is written, “Bless Hashem, O His angels, the mighty of strength who do His bidding, to hear the voice of His word” (Psalm 103:20) .
According to the above teaching, our idealistic readiness to “do” the mitzvos even before we “heard” the details is an indication that we discovered the “secret that is used by the angels of service”! In order to understand this secret, we need to realize that the Hebrew word for “angel” is malach – a word which also refers to a messenger. An angel is a “messenger of service” – a heavenly being that was created to fulfill a specific purpose of the Creator. These heavenly messengers have only one will: to be of service to their Creator. They are therefore ready to fulfill the Divine purpose “before” they hear the Divine instructions, and this readiness to serve is the secret of how they become “the mighty of strength who do His bidding, to hear the voice of His word.” At Mount Sinai, we discovered this secret, and we too became messengers of service! In this sense, we became like the angels, and we therefore proclaimed, “We will do,” before proclaiming, “we will hear.” Through these words, we proclaimed to our Beloved that we are messengers of service who are ready to “do” even before we “hear” the Divine instructions.
We were given the Torah “before” we entered the Land of Zion. This serves as a reminder that we are to enter this sacred land as “angels” – messengers of service – who are willing to fulfill the purpose of our creation in the very land where the human being was first created. As we mentioned in previous letters, the human being was created at the site of the future Temple in Zion.
The stories that we have begun to share about the men and women of Old Jerusalem reveal that they were aware that they were messengers of service; thus, they understood the “secret” of the angels. This secret was transmitted by their communities to future generations; in fact, the children of each generation of these communities begin to absorb this secret with their mother’s milk. It is therefore a source of great joy for me when I encounter some of these little “angels” of Zion who often demonstrate in seemingly small ways that they are messengers of service at a very early age. I will share with you a few examples:
As I mentioned in my previous and personal letter – “The Ark that Saved Me” – these communities are known throughout the Land of Israel for their warm hospitality. The guests include students, travelers, new immigrants, spiritual seekers, single people, or anyone in need of food and warm company. Most of the families in my chareidi neighborhood that host me on Shabbos and the Festivals include children who embrace me with warmth and attentive consideration. These children treat me like a member of the family, and when I see them on the street during the week, they run over to greet me.
The following story took place when I was a guest by a family in my neighborhood for the Friday night Shabbos meal. At the end of the meal, one of the older children started to take away all the dirty dishes. Suddenly, a younger brother (about five years old) began to cry! His father asked him, “Why are you crying?” The little boy replied, “It was my turn to take away the dishes!” He felt that his opportunity of service was taken away from him, and this caused him to weep. As we know, there are some children who will cry if they are asked to do a task like removing dirty dishes, but this little “angel” of Jerusalem cried when he felt that his mitzvah of removing these dishes was taken away from him.
A third cousin of mine, Eliezer Abramsky, came to Jerusalem one summer, and he stayed with me. One day, he went to visit a family in the chareidi city of Bnei Brak. He decided to treat the children in the family to some ice cream. He gave them money and told them to go and buy several containers of ice cream. When they returned from the grocery store, he noticed that they only bought one container, and they therefore gave him much more change than he expected. After warmly thanking him, the children ran out of their apartment. They soon returned with all the kids in their apartment building. They then happily divided this one container of ice cream among all their friends. My cousin was very moved by the eager willingness of these children to share their treat with others.
May all the Children of Israel rediscover the secret of the angels and thereby become “angels of service” in Zion.
Have a Good, Sweet, and Elevating Shabbos!
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen (See below)
A Special Thank You:
Over twenty-five years ago, when I was serving as the director of the Martin Steinberg Center for Jewish Artists, I came down with a debilitating illness which caused me to leave my work. With the help of Hashem, I regained a bit of strength which enabled me to move to Eretz Yisrael, and my medical condition was later diagnosed by various top Israeli doctors as a severe case of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. When I was still in the States, and the condition was very severe, there were some special friends who became “angels of service” through helping me in various ways. There are no words which can adequately express my gratitude for all that they did.
The following are some of these “angels”: Reuven and Judith Goldfarb, Chava Miller (my colleague at the Center who served as the associate director), the late Paul Greenberg, his wife, Esther Greenberg, Alan and Elisheva Kaufman, Ira Fein, and Yossi Klein Halevi.