לחג השבועות – L'Hag Ha-Shavuot
In the Talmud (Kiddushin 31a) it is written: Ulla Rabbah lectured at the entrance to the Nasi's house: What is meant by (Psalms 138:4), "All the kings of the earth shall make admission unto Thee, O Lord, For they have heard the words of Thy mouth" (יודוך ה' כל מלכי ארץ כי שמעו אמרי פיך)? Not the word of Thy mouth (מאמר פיך), but "the words of Thy mouth" (אמרי פיך) is said. When the Holy One Blessed Be He proclaimed (Exodus 20:2), I am [the Lord your ] and you shall have none [other gods before me], the nations of the world said: "He teaches merely for His own honor." As soon as He declared: (Exodus 20:11) "Honor thy father and thy mother," they recanted and admitted [the justice of] the first command [too].
Whoever has studied the history of the world has learned about the great and fierce wars that were waged between nations concerning faith and religion. Many powerful nations have been destroyed without a trace as a result of religious enmity. Faith has claimed many victims; the number killed is staggering. Who does not know of the great storm that was created in the midst of the world when the Christian faith arose, and they desired to bring all the inhabitants of the world beneath the covenant of their faith? They attacked any nation or kingdom that did not bow its head before them to accept and adhere to their faith, and left no survivors. For countless years they turned the entire globe into a killing field. Not until recent years did the earth rest and become quiet from the blows of her heavy hand.
So therefore when descended upon Mount Sinai to give the holy religion to the people of Israel, all the nations of the world were frightened and were seized with trembling because they thought that the adherents of this new religion would try with all their might to extend, through war for the sake of and the glory of Israel, the boundaries of their faith and thereby bring many nations under the yoke of the new religion. And this is also the opinion of another Midrash.
As soon as the nations of the world heard the voices, they all gathered together with Balaam. They said to him, "it seems to us that the Omnipresent intends to destroy the world." He replied, "the Eternal gives strength to His people, the Eternal will bless his people with peace."
The opinion of this Midrash is that the people of the earth feared for their lives on account of the Children of Israel, inheritors of the new religion, lest they wage war in a quest to force all the nations to accept the covenant of the Torah and its commandments. They feared that the earth would be destroyed because of the ensuing catastrophic war. Balaam answered that although the aspiration of Israel was to illuminate the night and to fill up the entire earth with knowledge so that the Eternal would be an everlasting light and so that all the kings of the earth would praise Him, His way is not with power or with might but with the Spirit of the Lord of Hosts. And the words of the sages will be spoken pleasantly until all the peoples of the earth will see that the name of the Eternal is called upon them and then together they will all turn their shoulders to worship Him. And His people will perform their task with knowledge, and wisdom, in peace and in tranquility. And so Balaam said: "The Eternal will give strength to His people to glorify His name throughout the world, but nevertheless they will not wage war, for the Eternal will bless His people with peace."
And this explains well what the Eternal said to them when He gave them the Torah (Exodus 19:5): "And you shall keep My covenant and you will be a treasure unto Me from all the nations, for all the land is Mine" (ושמרתם את בריתי והייתם לי סגולה מכל העמים כי לי כל הארץ). For if the children of Israel will observe the Torah they will be a treasure unto the Eternal forever, even when the time comes that "all the land is Mine" and all the nations will proclaim the name of the Eternal, and He alone will be exalted. Even then, the Children of Israel will be more precious to the Eternal than any of the other nations of the world, because "you will be unto Me a kingdom of priests" (ממלכת כהנים). For just as the priests stand at the head of the nation to illuminate the path upon which the nation should travel, so, too, must the Children of Israel illuminate the whole world and its inhabitants. Many peoples shall walk in their light and many nations in their radiance. And how will their words bear fruit and have their desired effect in extracting what is precious from those who are greedy and in transforming what is impure into that which is pure? By being "a holy nation" (גוי קדוש). If Israel will sanctify themselves to be holy unto the Eternal, so that all the nations of the world will see that the name of the Eternal is proclaimed upon them, then the nations will have reverence for them, as it is written (Leviticus 26:3): "and reverence my sanctuary" (ומקדשי תיראו), which is to say, the reverence of honor (יראת הכבוד). It is only in this way that the words of Israel will strike a chord in the heart of all the nations, but it cannot be done by means of war or force or might.
Now we all know that a man who is solitary and does not value the pure life that a man lives with his family and his household, but who separates himself from his family and from the house of his father, a man who does not share in their distress and takes no pleasure in their joy - we know that such a man very easily and willingly prepares himself for war and throws his life away on the battlefield for any cause great or small. Neither drawn sword nor fear of death deters him from fighting with a mighty arm. Nothing will subdue his spirit, because, being alone, he places no value on his own life. By himself, what value does he have and what value does his life have? Not so is the man whose life is tied with bonds of love to his mother and father and to his family and whose whole life is focused on them. He will not lift up his soul to fight for his land and his people, or for his faith and his religion, because his heart will tremble within him for the lives of his household whose eyes are upon him. His spirit and his soul and all his thoughts are completely devoted to his parents and his family, so how would he clothe himself in strength to raise his sword to smite his enemies? For will not the ones loved by his soul, who are so precious to him, pull him back with emotional ties, just as he, too, yearns for them? So how will his hand be able to draw the bow of the mighty? Will not those whom his soul craves rob him of self-confidence and courage on the battlefield? There is nothing more certain than that such a man is not a man of war and he will not succeed in battle, because he will love peace so that he can be tranquil and serene in his home and at peace in his dwelling place ensconced in the love of his household, his family, and his parents. And through their love he will flourish always, in the days of their joy and happiness as well as in the days of their sadness and heartbreak, for good or for ill.
Now when the Eternal commanded: "Honor thy father and thy mother," which is the cornerstone of the life of the House of Israel - that every man should live with his family in the house of his father (and the rabbis also infer from the extra words "כבד את אביך ואת אמך" that one must also love and cling to his brothers and sisters as he does his own soul) - He showed that He does not wish to reign with a strong hand. The Eternal did not want the Children of Israel to fight a holy war for the sake of their faith and to subdue the nations by force of arms and compel the nations to submit to their faith. Rather the Israelites were to go in the spirit of justice and of wisdom and understanding, for they were not men of war and conflict.
The words of the Midrash are now seven times brighter than the sun. For at first, when the Eternal said: "I am the Lord your G-d" and "You shall have no other gods before Me," the nations of the world said that the Eternal seeks only His own glory, and the Israelites will go out with a high hand to wage war for their faith. However, when the Eternal said: "Honor your father and your mother," the nations understood that if the Israelites act accordingly, and every man lives with his family in the house of his father, then they will not wage war successfully. Nor are they a people of conflict and contention eager to do battle. Thus, the anxiety of the nations was quieted, and they recanted what they had said earlier, and now praised Him for His words.
And our master has found a confirmation of his interpretation in the Midrash to poroshat Naso (Numbers Rabbah 8:4) where the substance of the same derivation is presented in a different version:
When the Holy One, blessed be He, gave the Torah to Israel and said (Exodus 20:2), "I am the Lord your ," the kings of the nations of the world each observed, "He speaks as we do, for what king wishes that another should deny him recognition?" Similarly, when the Holy One, blessed be He, said (Id. 3), "You shall have no other gods," they observed: "What king likes to have an associate?" Likewise, when the Holy One, blessed be He, said (Id. 7), "You shall not take the name of the Lord your in vain," they observed: "What king could consent that people should swear by him, yet speak falsehood?" So also when the Holy One Blessed Be He, said (Id. 8), "Remember the sabbath day," they observed: "What king would be satisfied that people should not honor the day which he has kept as a rest?" When, however, He said (Id. 12), "Honor your father and your mother, they remarked: "According to our laws any person who registers himself for unqualified submission to the king renounces his parents; while He proclaims, "Honor your father and your mother." So they rose from their thrones and gave Him praise.
And does this version of the Midrash not explicitly confirm the words of our master above concerning its proper interpretation?
ישלם ה' פעלך ותהי משכורתך שלימה מעם ה' אלהי ישראל אשר באת לחסות תחת כנפיו
The Lord will recompense your work, and a full reward shall be given to you by the Lord of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge. (Ruth 2:12)
It is written in the Midrash (Ruth Rabbah 5:4)
R. Hasa said, the Scripture writes "that you came" (אשר באת).
And many have already discussed this Midrash at length, but it appears to our master that one must first consider the verses Exodus 19:3-6: Thus shall you say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel; You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I carried you on eagles' wings, and brought you to Myself. Now therefore, if you will obey My voice indeed, and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own treasure among all peoples; for all the earth is Mine; And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation. These are the words which you shall speak to the people of Israel.
Many questions arise:
1. What is the significance of the repetitive mention of "the house of Jacob" (בית יעקב) and "the people of Israel" (ובני ישראל)?
2. What is the difference between "saying" (אמירה) and "telling" (והגדה)?
3. The words "if you will obey" (אם שמוע תשמעו) is encompassing, so what is it necessary to add "keep my covenant" (שמרתם את בריתי)?
4. How does "for all the earth is Mine (כי לי כל הארץ)" provide an explanation for "you will be My treasure among all the peoples (והייתם לי סגולה)"?
5. What is signified by the repetitive mention of "a kingdom of priests" (ממלכת כהנים)and "a holy nation" (וגוי קדוש)?
We know indeed that the Eternal commanded each one of us to observe and to fulfill the Torah and the commandments according to our own individual capacities. But the responsibility for the sins committed by any individual was also placed upon all of us, because each man is responsible for his friend. For if one man sins, the Eternal becomes angry at the entire nation, and He holds them all responsible because they did not reprove the sinner and cause him to repent of his sins. Anyone who has the power to come to the aid of the Eternal by preventing another from falling into sin, yet does nothing, has incurred a guilt that is greater than he can bear. Thus, the Ramban cites the Talmud Yerushalmi to show that the verse (Deuteronomy 27:26) "cursed be he who does not maintain all the words of this Torah" (ארור אשר לא יקים את דברי התורה הזאת) refers to the covenant that the Eternal made with us at Horeb, as it is written (Deuteronomy 29:11) "that you enter into covenant with the Lord your " (לעברך בברית ה' אלקיך ובאלתו).
And the reason why the nations refused to accept the Torah when offered it to them was that they did not want to be responsible for each other. This is the opinion of the Sifri concerning the verse (Deuteronomy 33:2-4): "the Lord came from Sinai and rose up from Seir to them, He shone forth from Mount Paran, he came from the ten thousands of holy ones with flaming fire at his right hand. . . . Moses commanded us a Torah, an inheritance for the assembly of Jacob." According to the Sifri, the Eternal went from one nation to the next offering to give them the Torah, but they did not want it. And the reason that the nations and the kingdoms did not want it was that they did not want to be responsible for each other. Each nation had its own excuse. The children of Esau said that they were murderers and had lust for blood, while the Torah says "You shall not kill." The children of Amon and Moab argued that they were all adulterers, while the book of wisdom says "do not commit adultery." And the children of Ishmael answered that they are thieves and predators, but the Torah raised her voice to say "You shall not steal." In this way they all avoided accepting the Torah.
But this Midrash is amazing. Are these three prohibitions not among the seven Noahide Laws that were already incumbent upon them? [See further explanations of this Midrash in poroshat V'zot Ha-brakhah.] So how could they have turned their back on these commandments? However, the answer is as we have already explained. They would have accepted the Torah, but they did not want to accept responsibility for each other, because they knew that their compatriots were uncontrollable - thieves, adulterers, and shedders of innocent blood - so how could anyone accept responsibility for the conduct of his friend?
This is the meaning of the verse there (Deuteronomy 33:3): "All his holy ones are in Thy hand" (כל קדושיו בידך). The Sifri explains that this refers to the benefactors of Israel who stand up for Israel and sacrifice themselves on their behalf, for if the people sin, then the benefactors must forfeit their lives. That is why the Scripture concludes: "Moses commanded us a law, an inheritance of the assembly of Jacob." For the children of Israel accepted the Torah as an inheritance for the entire community as a whole, so that they would all be responsible for each other. And we may say, therefore, that only for this reason (i.e., to compel them to accept responsibility for each other) did the Eternal have to place the Israel beneath the mountain and raise it over them like a barrel until they agreed to be responsible for one another. For Israel had sincerely wanted to accept the Torah as they had already said, "we will do and we will listen." (And in this way we can answer the question of the Tosafot Shabbat 88a, s.v. וכפאו עליהם, who asked did they not all say as one we will do and we will listen?)
Although there is no absolute proof, the idea is at least mentioned in the Talmud in tractate Megillah where the Sages deduce from the words (Esther 9:27) "The Jews ordained, and took upon them" (קיימו וקבלו) that they ordained now what they had previously took upon themselves. For in the Scripture the word "וקבלו" is written without a "ויו" (i.e., "וקבל" singular) even though it is read as if it were written with a ""ויו" (i.e., "וקבלו" plural). This suggests that when the Torah was given, each individual did indeed willingly accept the Torah upon himself. But at the time of Esther, they all accepted the Torah upon themselves collectively as a community responsible for each other, whereas before they accepted it willingly only as individuals.
It is well known that the responsibility for the actions of others extends only to men, but not to women, in accord with the settled halakhah. (To determine whether men are responsible for the actions of women would require an extended and complicated discussion.) And this well explains the distinction between the two expressions ("תאמר לבית יעקב ותגיד לבני ישראל"). First, "so shall you say unto the house of Jacob," which the Sages understand to be a reference to the women, who were not made responsible for each other's actions. A mild recitation was sufficient for them if they willingly accepted the Torah, so there was no need to speak to them sharply. But then "you should tell the children of Israel" refers to the men. To them it was necessary to speak words as hard as sinews. For even though they willingly accepted the Torah, and said together in great joy, "we will do and we will listen," they still did not want to be responsible for each other's conduct and did not want to accept the guilt of the entire community on each of their own heads. That is why Moses was commanded to speak to them with a sharp tongue and a commanding voice, and why Moses had to continue to elaborate at length.
"Now therefore if you will obey My voice" (ועתה אם שמוע תשמעו בקולי) which meant "if you will accept the Torah." Additionally if you "will observe My covenant" (ושמרתם את בריתי) which meant the covenant to be responsible for each other as it is written (Deuteronomy 29:11) "that you may enter the sworn covenant of covenant of the Lord your ." Only then "will you be My own possession among all the nations," and you will be chosen from among all the nations even though "for all the earth is Mine." In other words, even when all the nations of the world will observe all these commandments, which I have commanded them, even then, the Children of Israel will be holy unto the Eternal - His most precious treasure, His most cherished heirloom - because they entered into the covenant together and accepted responsibility for one another. And who is like the people of Israel, one nation in the world? United as a single person - friends. And Moses continues to explain, "And you will be unto Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation," for the duty of a priest is to teach the people the ordinances of and His laws and to lead them on the upright path, as it is written (Deuteronomy 33:10): "they shall teach Jacob Thy ordinances" (יורו משפטיך ליעקב). Similarly the people of Israel, because they accepted responsibility for each other - every man standing on guard for his friend so that he should not sin, each man reproving his friend - could be called a nation consisting entirely of priests. And as a result, all of Israel together would become a holy nation, always sanctified unto the Eternal. So they would never sin to , because each man would help his friend maintain his vigilance to fulfill the Torah and the commandments.
Now behold, in the days when the judges judged, and there was a famine in the land - not a famine of bread or water, but a famine of the word of - Elimelekh, who, according to the Sages, was a judge placed at the head of the people, separated himself and his house from the people, and dwelt alone, by himself, without mingling with them or reproving them. And the Eternal visited his guilt upon him, and he and his sons died while they were living in a strange land. However, Ruth the Moabitess understood the iniquity of her father-in-law and his sons, and how great was their sin, because they had abandoned their people in a time of distress and stood apart from their people and their affliction. She sought to rectify this wrongdoing when she cast aside the abominable idols and sought refuge under the wings of the Lord, of Israel. But this was insufficient in her eyes and she returned with her mother-in-law to Bethlehem seeking the welfare of her people, to be with them in their distress as well as to share in their prosperity.
That is why she said, "your people is my people, and your is my ." In saying this, she meant that she was not just clinging to alone, to serve Him and to reverence Him, but also "your people is my people" in the days of their glory and well-being, and in the days of their sadness and heartbreak. It was on account of this that Boaz said to her (Ruth 2:12): "May the Lord recompense you for what you have done" because you have clung to Him. But this was not enough, also "a full reward be given you by the Lord, of Israel, under whose wings you have taken refuge." By this Boaz meant that Ruth's return to and settlement in Israel showed that she yearned for the people of Israel and longed for their prosperity and well-being. And because the Eternal did not command the women to seek the welfare of their people and because they were not given responsibility for the conduct of their friends, Boaz specifically prayed to the " of Israel" that Ruth's reward be complete. He did so, because the of the universe will be called "the of Israel" forever, even in the time when "all the world is Mine" and all nations will serve Him, because the children of Israel accepted responsibility for each other and formed a single group, directed toward a single goal: to love the Eternal and to reverence Him.
And these are the words of R. Hasa in the Midrash:
The Scripture writes "that you came" (אשר באת). For it is not just that she converted, but that she came into the nation to dwell among the people as one of them. Because of this her reward should be complete.