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