“Moses took the book of the covenant and read it to the nation, and they said everything that Hashem tells us we shall keep and receive” – ‘Naase VeNishma’. The Gemara in Shabbat (88A) regards this statement given by the Jewish people as a great virtue, a secret given only to the angles. The Jews were willing to accept the Torah even before knowing what it was all about!
But if you were listing during last week’s Torah reading, you would know that Matan Torah had already taken place. A similar statement was given by the Jews before accepting the Torah and that must have been the one the Gemara is referring to. What therefore is the purpose of this repetition or perhaps misplaced Pasuk? It seems to loose its effect once the Torah has not only already been given but also explained in lengthy detail in this week’s Parsha.
The Tosfot, on that same Gemara in Shabbat, asks another question. On that very page, the Gemara seems to contradict the whole notion of ‘Naase VeNishma’. The Rabbis introduce the concept: ‘Kafa aleihem har kegigit’, which literally means Hashem, held the mountain (Sinai) over their heads like a bucket. This is coming to say that the Jews were forced in to the covenant of the Torah, they had no choice. If we accept this idea, what is the significance of ‘Naase VeNishma’? One cannot be praised for choosing something he was forced in to!
The ‘Aish Kodesh’ based on this Tosfot, offers a deeper understanding to the ‘Naase VeNishma’ stated in our Parsha. Let us check what exactly Moshe read to the nation that induced this awesome response?
Rashi on the words ‘book of covenant’ (from the Pasuk quoted at the head of the page) explains they are referring to the story of the Jewish people preceding ‘Matan Torah’. Beginning with creation, through Avraham Yitzchak and Yaakov, right down to the story Josef and the exile in Egypt. What Moshe is doing here, is giving a reason why one should keep the Torah. The Jews had no choice but to accept the Torah – Moshe showed them using their own history, it is who they were. Their choice remains only to choose if to keep it or not.
Many times, I have been asked, as a member of the Kollel, but also as a plain Jew living in the twenty-first century, ‘why should we be Jewish?’ What is wrong with Christianity, Buddhism or any other religion for that matter?
The true unprejudiced answer to this question is not that we can find some sort of logical flaw or any obvious errors in any of the other religions. The truth is we chose to be Jewish because… we are Jewish. One cannot choose who he is. He is born into a certain time and place in history, he comes from a certain background and upbringing and he belongs to a specific nation. One can ignore all of this and go to a place he does not belong – Or he could choose to live up to these high expectations, to become a link in the great chain called Jewish history.
The Jews stated ‘Naase Venishma’ twice. On one level, they had no choice but to accept the Torah – It was their destiny. What they did choose and were praised for was a whole other level. They started the long journey down the road leading towards fulfilment of that destiny. The famous saying of the Hasidic master the ‘Kotzker Rov’ is very appropriate here. In Shma, we say everyday: ‘and these words (of the Torah) shall be on your heart’. The Torah is already on our heart, all we have to do is open it up and let it in.