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Tuesday, June 7

The Weekly Shtikle - Shavuos

The Midrash (Mechilta Yisro 5, Sifrei V'zos HaBerachah 343) recounts the events that preceded Matan Torah. HaShem offered the Torah to the other nations before offering it to B'nei Yisroel. When He approached the descendants of Eisav, they asked, "What is written in it?" HaShem responded "Thou shall not murder." The offer was subsequently rejected as they were unable to commit to that provision for Eisav ultimately lives by the sword. When the sons of Ammon and Mo'av were approached and were told that the Torah included a prohibition against illicit relations, they rejected the offer for the very source of Ammon and Mo'av was incestual relationship between Lot and his daughters. The Yishmaelites were given the same offer. When they asked what such a commitment would entail, they were told that it would be forbidden to steal. Thievery being the essence of the descendants of Yishmael, they were unable to commit to follow the Torah. The Midrash states that there was not one nation that was not offered the Torah but no one would accept it. When B'nei Yisroel were approached they all declared in unison "na'aseh v'nishma," we will do and we will listen.

R' Yaakov Weinberg, zt"l, asks a very simple question on this Midrash. Why was the sample law given to each nation one that contradicted their very existence and certain to lead to rejection? Why were they not given a taste of the Torah that was more likely to please them? R' Weinberg answers that HaShem's answer to the nations was irrelevant. The very moment that they asked what is written in the Torah, they disqualified themselves from receiving it. By making their acceptance of the Torah contingent upon their approval of its contents, the nations showed a lack of commitment which is incongruous with a Torah nation. Torah must be at the forefront while society is built around it. When the nations asked their seemingly innocent question, they showed that they were not prepared to give up their ideals for Torah. HaShem, therefore, answered them in such a way that showed them that Torah was not for them.

The response of B'nei Yisroel was the exact opposite. They did not flinch. They did not vacillate. They accepted the Torah with true faith and showed no concern for their own agendas. This is why their response is so vital to the process of Matan Torah. With this understanding, we, ourselves have the opportunity to reach the level of "na'aseh v'nishma" in our own way. By subordinating ourselves to the values of the Torah, we show, like our ancestors did, that we are ready to commit unequivocally to a life of Torah. If we set our standards in accordance with the Torah, not allowing them to be tainted by the contrary influences of society, we are, indeed, showing our true devotion to the Word of HaShem, much like our forefathers did at the foot of Har Sinai when they accepted the Torah.


A question that has vexed me for some time: At the beginning of Megillas Rus, when Na'ami returns home she urges Rus to go back to Moav but Rus persists. Finally, Na'ami gives in and agrees to take Rus along with her. The pasuk (1:18) recounts that Na'ami saw that Rus was steadfast to walk with her and therefore ceased to talk her (to convince her not to convert). There is an interesting interpretation of this pasuk in the name of the GR"A. The gemara (Bava Metzia 84a) recounts that Reish Lakish was a bandit before he became a great talmid chacham. When he first met his eventual companion and brother-in-law, R' Yochanan, he leaped into the Jordan River. At the end of his conversation with R' Yochanan, he had accepted to become a Torah-observant Jew. He tried to leap back up to retrieve his clothes but he could not. Rashi writes that since he accepted upon himself the yolk of Torah, he was weakened and could not leap as he could before. The GR"A apparently suggests that when Rus and Na'ami were battling back and forth, Rus was easily keeping up with Na'ami. However, in this pasuk, we see that Rus had to struggle and give herself an extra push in order to keep up with Na'ami. When Na'ami saw this, she realized that Rus had accepted upon herself the yolk of Torah and therefore, she ceased trying to convince her to return to Moav.

I have always found this comparison troubling. When Reish Lakish first jumped in to the river, R' Yochanan exclaimed "This power of yours should be used for Torah." It seems clear from Rashi that what weakened Reish Lakish was accepting the yolk of Torah, seemingly the study of Torah. As it is commonly said, Torah weakens the strength of man. However, Rus was not accepting upon herself the yolk of Torah like Reish Lakish but rather, the yolk of mitzvos. Where do we find that the yolk of mitzvos has a weakening effect?

Have a Chag Samei'ach!
Eliezer Bulka

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