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SEVEN WORDS

Roy Neuberger - Feb. 23, 2018


Just seven words. It was not a Gemora, not a Rashi. It was a few words from a commentary explaining a Tosfos. I was sitting in Yerushalayim early Shabbos morning and trying to understand those seven words.


You know my background. I never attended yeshiva as a child and did not enter the world of Torah until I was thirty-one. Chumash, Mishna, Gemora, Rashi and Tosfos came very late for me. I struggle with it.


So I sat there Shabbos morning, looking at those seven words. Suddenly, they were clear to me.


I was so excited! I felt as I was standing at Mount Sinai! I felt Eternity open up. “Moshe received the Torah from Sinai and transmitted it to Joshua, Joshua to the Elders, the Elders to the Prophets, the Prophets to the Men of the Great Assembly.” (Pirkei Avos) And the Men of the Great Assembly transmitted it to …. me! Those seven words connected me to G-d! I felt the simcha of the Month of Adar, the Month of Purim, the simcha of being connected to the Soul of the Universe.


What is the simcha of Adar?


I never understood what was meant by “kimu v’kiblu ha’yehudim …the Jews established [in the days of Achashverosh] that which they had already accepted [in the days of Moshe Rabbeinu].” (Shabbos 88a) What happened in the days of Purim which enabled our ancestors to accept what they had been reluctant to accept previously?


A sentence in the Torah Portion of Yisro says, “Moses brought the people forth from the camp toward G-d, and they stood under the mountain (Mount Sinai).” (Exodus 19:17) “Rav Avdimi bar Chama bar Chasa said: [This] teaches that Hashem covered them with the mountain … and said to them: ‘If you accept the Torah, fine. But if not, your burial will be there.’” Rav Acha bar Yaakov then states that covering the Children of Israel with the mountain appears to be “coercion regarding [acceptance of] the Torah!” (Shabbos 88a)


What is happening here? Hadn’t the people already willingly accepted the Torah? Had they not said, “Everything that Hashem has spoken, we will do and we will hear!” (Although these words are written later, Rashi explains that they were actually spoken prior to the giving of the Torah.)


Why did our ancestors apparently have to be “coerced” into accepting the Torah?


Or Hachaim explains: “We need to determine the reason for the double use of the word ‘listen … you will listen,’ [which the Torah uses at Mount Sinai]. Perhaps Hashem intended to instruct our ancestors that [they would need] to accept two [distinct] components of [the] Torah, one [the Written Torah] that He would convey to them in that setting, and one [the Oral Torah] that [the Sages] would teach [in all future generations].” (Exodus 19:5)


Ah! Now it becomes clearer. At Mount Sinai, our ancestors accepted upon themselves the Written Torah, which they were hearing from Hashem at that time. But the Oral Torah was a different matter. As Or Hachaim explains, the words of the Sages “are things that have no [maximum] measure, and [thus] there is no limit to such a commitment, for in every generation [the Sages] may pass new laws, safeguards and enactments. Who then [the people said], can uphold a Torah such as this that has no maximum measure?” (ibid)

 

So our ancestors resisted accepting the Oral Torah at that time, and Mount Sinai was held over their heads in order to “coerce” them to accept. Obviously, this difficult situation needed rectification. What was to be done?


The solution came about in the Days of Mordechai and Esther.


Let us once again consult Or Hachaim: “[Indeed, the people’s acceptance of the Oral Torah] was [considered to have been made] under duress, [and thus was somewhat deficient], until the days of Mordechai [and Esther]. When [the people] saw the wise, life-saving actions that Mordechai and Esther had taken [on their behalf to annul Haman’s decree,] they once more took [the Oral Torah upon themselves, but this time] willingly, to fulfill every new thing that the Sages would enact for them, after they saw how great were the deeds of [Mordechai and Esther], without which there would not have remained a trace [G-d forbid!] of the [Nation of] Israel!” (ibid)


My dear friends, the entire world knows about the Torah which Hashem gave to us at Mount Sinai. But who lives it? Only we, the Nation which has descended from the Generation of the Desert. Our connection to that generation is sustained by a holy thread, the words of the rabbis, the loyal interpreters of the Oral Law which has been handed down from father to son.


Now we can begin to understand the magnitude of the Yom Tov of Purim and basis for the earth-shaking simcha of this month of Adar! “Rava said: [the people] accepted [the Torah] again in the days of Achashverosh, as it is written, ‘kimu v’kiblu … the Jews established and accepted,’ [which is interpreted to mean that] they established [in the days of Achashverosh] that which they had already accepted [in the days of Moses].” (Shabbos 88a)


“Mastery of the Oral Law requires long, diligent intense study and a high degree of self-sacri-fice. Only those who truly love G-d can muster the devotion this calls for. That is why G-d’s covenant with Israel is based on the Oral Law.” (Midrash Tanchuma Parshas Noach 3, as quoted in Artscroll Maseches Gittin 60b, Footnote 9)


When we are attached to the Oral Torah, we are attached to life! As the Megilla says, “The Jews had light and gladness and joy and honor!” May the light return to its primordial brilliance in our own days with the coming of our redeemer, Moshiach ben Dovid!

 

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