What do you really want?

Rabbi Dovid Baddiel

Dayan of the Beth Din, and Rabbi of Ohr Aharon

Moses led the people out of the camp toward G-d, and the [nation of Israel] stood at the foot of the mountain [of Sinai]. (Exodus 19:17)

וַיּוֹצֵא מֹשֶׁה אֶת הָעָם לִקְרַאת הָאֱלֹקִים מִן הַמַּחֲנֶה וַיִּתְיַצְּבוּ בְּתַחְתִּית הָהָר.

(שמות יט:יז)

A fundamental idea I’d like to share with you in honour of Shavuot:

Prior to us receiving the Torah, the Posuk1 says ויתיצבו בתחתית ההר “the nation of Israel stood at the foot of the mountain of Sinai”, which Chazal2 interpret this verse to mean that Hashem turned the mountain over them ‘as a barrel’, forcing them to accept the Torah.

What does this mean? Was it really necessary to coerce them to receive the Torah when they were the first nation to have said readily3 נעשה ונשמע?! And in any event, what benefit is there in coercing them to receive the Torah if they do not desire it?

The Meshech Chochmah4 applies the idea of the Rambam in Hilchot Geirushin5 that if a Kohen, for instance, is forced by the Beth Din to divorce his wife who is a divorcee (a marriage which is forbidden according to Torah Law) to the point that he reluctantly agrees, then the Get he writes is fully valid, though in general any Get that is written under coercion is not valid.

The Rambam explains that the reason for the Get to be valid here is because in this case it really is his inner wish to give the Get, only his evil inclination has taken over and telling him not to agree to it, but the very essence of a Jew is to always fulfil the wish of Hashem and undoubtedly he really would wish to fulfil the instructions of the Torah. He is under the ‘spell’ of the evil inclination, and once he’s forced to agree to write the Get, we assume that this is really his true wish.

Similarly, Hashem was only demonstrating to all, that often when we’re not wanting to do His wish, He recognises that in essence we do wish to fulfil the Holy Torah, as we had so readily accepted it initially, and the receiving of the Torah is not to be considered in any way an acceptance under duress, which would not be worth much, rather it is our evil inclination that sometimes takes over, and prevents us from doing the Mitzvot, but our real essence is the initial acceptance that we have always wished to fulfil the wish of Hashem. Even at times when we may be forced to abide by the Torah, it must not be viewed in any way as compelling us to do something against our will, rather the coercion is to be viewed as freeing us from the external tendencies, and that we are a people that really have an inner urge to fulfil and live by the Torah, and that is why we are considered to have accepted the Torah ברצון גמור, with our complete will.

Often we may have certain stresses in life and we may not feel so eager to fulfil Hashem’s Mitzvot, but we are to understand that these are only external forces, and that Hashem considers our fulfilling of the Mitzvot as done fully with our complete will.

An enjoyable Yom Tov!

  1. Exodus 19:17

  2. Talmud, Shabbat 88a

  3. Exodus 24:7

  4. Meshech Chochmah, Parshat Yitro, Exodus 19:17

  5. Rambam, Hilchot Gerushin 2:20

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