Rabbi Yossi Slotnick
Former Rosh Kollel in Cape Town (1997-1998)
Currently Ra”m in Yeshivat Ma’ale Gilboa
In our collective memory as a people one of the highest points we reached was when on the eve of מתן תורה . The people of Israel collectively cried outנעשה ונשמע – we accept any commandment God gives us and we commit to keeping them even before we have heard what they are.
Surprisingly, when reading Parashat Yitro we notice that this event is not mentioned. Upon furthear search we will find that this event is mentioned, but in the end of Parashat Mishpatim, as part of a description of the covenant entered by the people of Israel and God. In this covenant the people agree to keep the commandments and God will protect them and led them into the land of Israel. The series of events described in these parashot is as follows:
- Preparing for Matan Torah
- Matan Torah and the Ten Commandments.
- The people asking Moshe Rabeinu to speak instead of God.
- A number of laws appended to the Ten Commandments.
- An extended codex of law.
- God`s promise of protection
- The covenant between the people of Israel and God.
Many commentaries read this as a historical chain of events. Based on this reading the covenant and statement ofנעשה ונשמע I is said after the people are aware of what they are committing to, since they have already previously heard a large portion of the commandments. Othear commentaries (Rash”i to name one) claim that this is not a historical representation and in fact the covenant was entered on the eve of Matan Torah.
This view has much charm; we as a people accept God’s commandment without knowing the cost and implication, without finding out what we have to gain. All we want in return for our wholehearted commitment is to hear God`s word.
The echoing question for this view is why did the Torah not write it this way? If indeed the people said נעשה ונשמע before Matan Torah, why do we only hear about it a few chapters later? There are two aspects in our relationship with God. In fact in our prayers we say numerous times –אבינו מלכנו, God is our father and king. The relationship with our parent, while aimed at bettering us as human beings through
education, is filled with love, protection and our best interest. The relationship between a subject and the king is totally different. The subject has to keep the laws of his master whether he chooses to or not, whether he is convinced they will benefit him or not, whether he loves his king or not.
It seems to me that the Torah wanted to describe Matan Torah on two different Levels. It starts by describing Matan Torah as a coercive event. The people need to prepare for the arrival of The King, and when God arrives it is with the awe inspiring sounds and sights. God, in a booming voice calls out his commandments and the people shirk away in fear. The subjects cower from the king and seek mediators to stand between them.
The Torah then moves to another description – the people of Israel choose to obey God, they want to sign and seal their commitment to God, and all they want is his love. They blindly will follow God anywhere and do whatever He asks simply because they love Him.
The Torah does not want us to hear only the version of Avinu or only the version of Malkeinu. The Torah wants to have both side by side, allowing us to hear the tension between the two and asking us to resolve them within our religious lives.