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5 Adar II 5765 - March 16, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
Accepting Torah Willingly

by HaRav Dovid Povarsky zt"l

This shmuess is an excerpt from Mussar Vodaas—Sichos Maran HaGrid zt'l

Part I

"`They stood at the foot of the mountain' (Shemos 19:17). R' Avdimi bar Chama bar Chasa said: `This teaches us that HaKodosh Boruch Hu held the mountain on top of them like a barrel and told them, "It is preferable you accept the Torah upon yourselves, for if not you will be buried there" ' (Shabbos 88a)."

Bnei Yisroel were forced to accept the Torah on Mount Sinai. That generation, Dor Hamidbar, reached the level of, "We shall do and we shall hear" (Shemos 24:7), about which the Ruler of the World commented, "Who revealed this secret, that the Mal'achei hashoreis use?" (Shabbos 88a). Bnei Yisroel at that period were like mal'ochim, for whom "we shall do" is unconnected to "we shall hear" that usually precedes it for people, and also the converse was true: "we shall hear" was unconnected to "we shall do." For mal'ochim, who are only created to do Hashem's bidding, their deeds are the main thing and their understanding is a distant secondary thing. The mal'ochim have no free will and are specifically created to do particular acts. They understand only insofar as it is necessary for them to do, which is their main purpose.

Man is different since he has free will. Man's "we shall do" is always attached to the preceding "we shall hear," since he must understand in order to make his choice. The "we shall hear" is also attached to the following "we shall do," as the Maharal of Prague explains (Tiferes Yisroel, ch. 29) since it is his understanding that leads him to make the choices and do the things that he does.

Klal Yisroel in that generation elevated themselves so tremendously that "when HaKodosh Boruch Hu gave them the Torah He opened the seven firmaments for them" (Rashi, Devorim 4:35). Although we surely do not fathom in depth what "opening the seven firmaments" means, we understand that in such a condition bnei Yisroel saw that it was unimaginable to exist without the Torah. They realized that without embracing the Torah they would die at the foot of Mount Sinai.

This sublime recognition of the necessity to accept the Torah is referred to by Chazal as being forced. This is "holding the mountain on top of them like a barrel." Klal Yisroel understood that they could not live without the Torah, and that realization forced them to accept it.

Rabbah said, "Nonetheless, they later accepted [the Torah] in the time of Achashverosh, as is written, `The Jews confirmed and accepted upon themselves' (Esther 9:27)—they confirmed what they had already accepted" (Shabbos 88a).

If the generation of those who received the Torah, a generation of nevi'im, accepted the Torah only when compelled to do so, how is it possible that during the period of Achashverosh the Jews willingly accepted it? No matter what efforts we make, this question will remain unresolved.

We lack basic knowledge of what Torah actually is and the significance hidden in what a person does, his ma'asim. This lack of knowledge causes us to ask such questions. Chazal, however, were well aware of the importance of ma'asim. They knew the source of a person's ma'asim and how it elevates him.

The Midrash (Vayikra Rabbah 27:1) teaches us: "This is the meaning of what is written, `Your righteousness is like the great mountains' (Tehillim 37:6)—mountains grow grass and tzaddikim have good deeds." The Midrash means, by saying "tzaddikim have good deeds," that these good deeds sprout from the very essence of the tzaddikim.

We see the same principle concerning studying Torah. "Studying Torah is of pivotal importance, since it brings one to do ma'asim" (Kiddushin 40b). If we study Torah as we should, it produces concrete results in our daily activities.

The Midrash continues: "Another explanation: `Your righteousness is like the great mountains' — Just as the mountains are capable of being sowed and giving fruit, likewise tzaddikim yield fruit and bring benefit for themselves and others."

(According to our previous explanation that good deeds sprout from the essence of tzaddikim, what does the Midrash mean by saying that they "bring benefit for themselves"? It would seem that doing the acts is only an external expression of their inner essence, and nothing new is produced. So what benefit do they bring to themselves?)

"This is similar to a golden bell whose clapper is a jewel. In that way tzaddikim benefit themselves and others, as is written: `Say of the tzaddik that it shall be well with him, for they shall eat the fruit of their doings' (Yeshayohu 3:10)."

We explained that the "doings," meaning a person's ma'asim, are his fruits. But the Midrash adds that the fruits have fruits—"the fruit of their doings." Since these "doings" are already the tzaddik's fruits, what fruit emerges from them that tzaddikim also receive?

We can understand this somewhat according to the well-known axiom that when someone does another person a favor or gives him a present, the provider of that favor feels love for the person who received the favor from him, even more than the recipient feels love for the provider.

Logically, it may seem that the opposite should be true: the recipient of the kindness should love the giver more. In reality, however, we see that the person supplying the favor loves the recipient more.

The reason is that the recipient receives from the giver only the penny he gave him, but the giver cultivated a good heart through his giving. Can the enormous gain of a good heart possibly be compared to the material gain of the recipient?

This is the "the fruit of their doings." Although all such fruits grow from a person's essence, where they are already consummated and merely need to emerge outside, still when they actually do emerge they bring "the fruit of their doings," namely the influence (feedback) of a person's acts on his heart.

This secondary fruit is altogether different from his ma'asim, the first fruit. What is the first fruit? It is doing the act. But the fruit of that fruit is its subsequent influence on the heart, which is a much greater and important fruit than the act itself.

Now we can understand the moshol in the Midrash of "a golden bell whose clapper is a jewel." Undoubtedly, an external ma'aseh is very great—a golden bell. But the influence that a person's essence undergoes from a proper act is a "jewel," something more important than the outer golden bell.

"They bring benefit for themselves" — since surely even before doing any act their hearts were ready to do that act, but nonetheless only through doing the act itself do they reach the jewel, the good heart.


"With what shall I come before Hashem and bow myself before the high Elokim? Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will Hashem be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has told you, O man, what is good, and what Hashem does require of you: but to do justly, and to love doing chesed, and to walk humbly with your Elokim" (Michah 6:6-8).

Chesed itself is surely of supreme importance, but we are not discussing chesed itself. We are pointing out what Hashem demands from us. He demands from us "love of chesed." Such a love is that goodness of heart that is the "fruit of their doings" that results from a person's ma'asim and afterwards becomes an integral part of man.

Likewise, "walking humbly with your Elokim" refers to what man gains internally from acting humbly. This is what Hashem requires from us.

The Chovos Halevovos (Ahavas Hashem, ch. 4) writes (referring to another topic): "What should be praised and commended in all of the trials of the Ovos is that they underwent them with love and simchah. If not done in such a way, the acts themselves would have been worthless — [note this peculiar expression!] — since their main [importance] and [the Torah's] intent is man's heart."

In this way we can explain what Chazal (Ovos 4:1) write: "Who is honored? He who honors others." This Mishnah in Ovos simply means that a person who is honored is someone who knows what should be honored and valued. He knows to what degree virtues should be praised since he himself lives according to them. When such a person sees virtues in someone else, he naturally honors him. Someone who is not himself honored, meaning someone who does not have any concept of or connection with these virtues, does not grasp the excellence of the virtues that another person possesses.

This explanation is surely true, but according to what we have written above another explanation can be offered. The main gains accrue to the person who did the acts, not to the object of his actions. So therefore the fruit of someone who honors others is that he himself is honored.

Now we can understand somewhat the difference between those who lived during the Dor Hamidbar and those who lived during the times of Achashverosh. We can understand how the Jews then reached the level of willingly accepting the Torah, something that even the people of the Dor Hamidbar did not attain.

The acceptance of Torah by Achashverosh's generation was a result of their doing certain ma'asim: fasting, crying, and lamenting—"the public lay in sackcloth and ashes" (Esther 4:3). A fruit that grows through acts is surely more important than one not originating from any act. It is like an act of chesed resulting from a "love of chesed" in the heart of the person doing it. Likewise the fasting, crying, and lamenting begat the "willing acceptance" of the Torah.

End of Part I

HaRav Dovid Povarsky zt'l was the rosh yeshiva in Yeshivas Ponovezh of Bnei Brak

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