Acceptance to Accept

Rabbi Avigdor Blumenau

And Moshe went up to the Elokim and Hashem called out to him from the mountain, saying, “So shall you say to the House of Jacob and tell the Children of Israel. You have seen what I did to Mitzrayim and I carried you on eagle’s wings and I brought you to me. And now, if you will listen to my voice and keep my covenant, then you will be to me special amongst the nations, because the whole earth is mine. And you will be to me a kingdom of priests, a holy people”, these are the words that you should speak to the Children of Israel. (Exodus 19:3-6)

וּמֹשֶׁה עָלָה אֶל הָאֱלֹקִים וַיִּקְרָא אֵלָיו ה' מִן הָהָר לֵאמֹר כֹּה תֹאמַר לְבֵית יַעֲקֹב וְתַגֵּיד לִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵֽל. אַתֶּם רְאִיתֶם אֲשֶׁר עָשִׂיתִי לְמִצְרָיִם וָאֶשָּׂא אֶתְכֶם עַל כַּנְפֵי נְשָׁרִים וָאָבִא אֶתְכֶם אֵלָֽי. וְעַתָּה אִם שָׁמוֹעַ תִּשְׁמְעוּ בְּקֹלִי וּשְׁמַרְתֶּם אֶת בְּרִיתִי וִהיִיתֶם לִי סְגֻלָּה מִכָּל הָעַמִּים כִּי לִי כָּל הָאָֽרֶץ. וְאַתֶּם תִּהְיוּ לִי מַמְלֶכֶת כֹּהֲנִים וְגוֹי קָדוֹשׁ אֵלֶּה הַדְּבָרִים אֲשֶׁר תְּדַבֵּר אֶל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵֽל.

(שמות יט:ג-ו)

Perhaps the most substantial part of the Jewish People’s journey is the stage right before the acceptance of the Torah, the stage we may call the acceptance to accept. The Chumash describes Hashem’s proposal to the Jewish People, on Rosh Chodesh Sivan. It is from here that we were accorded the title of Am Segulah, ‘a special nation’.

What is most striking about this proposal is that the ‘actual deal’ seems to be left out. Could the ‘deal’ not best be articulated as, you were slaves, I freed you, you now serve me and I will reward you, fail to do so and I will punish you? Yet, there is no clear mention of Hashem having taken us out of Mitzrayim, no mention of slavery and nothing said explicitly regarding reward or punishment.

It is interesting to note that Hashem’s message is introduced with the instruction to Moshe, so shall you say, and concludes with the instruction, these are the words that you should speak. Rashi explains that Hashem was telling Moshe to deliver the message with this wording, in this order, no less and no more. What is it that Moshe would have dared to add to Hashem’s message?

Perhaps Moshe would have wanted to add that Hashem had taken us out of Mitzrayim, we owed ourselves as slaves and it would have been beneficial for us to comply.

In fact, this is all true. Why then was Hashem so adamant to leave this crucial information out of the deal? The answer is that the point of the giving of the Torah is simply and purely the relationship with Hashem, to be a ‘special nation’, a ‘kingdom of priests’ and a ‘holy people’. Hashem didn’t want to taint the beauty of the relationship through the mentioning of anything other than love and devotion.

Yes, we need to honour our debts of gratitude, Hashem does reward and even punish. But it’s not that Hashem is in need of us paying our debts or securing our service through promising reward and inflicting punishment. He wants us to be the kind of people who honour their debts for our own sakes. His devotion to us incorporates a system of reward and punishment to keep us focused.

Moshe, therefore, could have thought that even though it would not have been appropriate for Hashem to mention slavery and reward, perhaps he, Moshe, should direct the Jewish people to arrive at the correct moral decision through bringing to their attention all that Hashem had done for them and making them aware that Hashem has the power to reward and punish.

However, Hashem wanted to ensure that the relationship would be established on pure love and nothing else. There would be plenty of time in the future to remind them of their moral debt and to make them aware of consequences, but only when framed as an extension and an expansion of a loving relationship.

©2019 by The Office of The Chief Rabbi