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Rabbi Yosef Levinson
Perhaps the most glorious moment in our nation's history took place right before Mattan Torah, the giving of the Torah. The Jewish people declared to Moshe: "Naaseh v'nishma" - "We will do and we will hear"( Shemos 24:8). With this declaration we were elevated to the status of melachim, angels. Hashem's response to this declaration was "Mi gila l'vanai raz zeh shemalachei hashareis mishtamshin bo?" - Who revealed to my children this secret which the ministering angels use? As it is written in regard to the melachim "Bless Hashem, His angels; the strong warriors who do His bidding, to hear voice of His word" (Tehillim 103:20). They are prepared to perform Hashem's will even before hearing what He commands. Bnei Yisrael also accepted Hashem's mitzvos without questioning whether it was too difficult for them (Shabbos 88a.).
Naaseh V'nishma also reveals another element of Bnei Yisrael's greatness. The Midrash Tanchuma states "R' Abba bar R' Kahana said: 'When Bnei Yisrael stood by Har Sinai and said 'All that Hashem speaks we will do and we will hear' Hakadosh Baruch Hu, the Holy One Blessed be He, immediately cherished them and He sent two angels to each of them. One angel girded him with a sword and the other one placed a crown on his head.' " (Tetzaveh 11). The crowns testified to their lofty status, however what did the swords represent?
The Beis HaLevi provides us with an explanation. He asks: "Why did each individual respond in the plural, "Na'aseh v'nishma", we will do and we will listen? More correctly, each person should have said "E'eseh v'eshma", I will do and I will listen. How could they speak for everyone else? The Beis Halevi answers that everyone made two kabbalos, commitments. One kabbala was to personally observe the Torah. The second commitment was to take responsibility over his friend, to ensure that he would also keep the Torah faithfully. This is stated in the Midrash: "Rebbi said that when the Jewish people stood before Har Sinai together and accepted the sovereignty of Hashem with joy and with one heart, they also became guarantors for each other." (Tanchuma, Yisro 13) Therefore they responded in the plural. Not only will I fulfil my obligations, I will see to it that my neighbour does too. "Na'aseh" - we will do whatever is necessary to ensure that our neighbour observes the mitzvos. This is what the sword represented. It takes strength to stand up and concern ourselves with our fellow Jews. It is very easy to be complacent and satisfied solely with our own observance (Beis Halevi, Mishpatim; See also Eitz Yosef to Tanchuma, ibid. The sword was also given to them in case they should ever need to employ force against someone who refused to fulfil a mitzva).
How can we fulfil our responsibility to our brethren today? Employing physical force is not a practical option. Besides the fact that we would probably not convince them to change their ways, we would almost certainly end up behind bars! Furthermore, verbal rebuke also does not work unless one is a gifted orator or a very sensitive and caring individual. However "kol Yisrael areivim zeh lazeh", all Jews are responsible to each other and not just the kiruv professionals. So what can we do to help our fellow Jew?
Often we would like to improve our ways, to strengthen our learning to be more careful with shemiras halashon (guarding our tongue from forbidden speech), or to refrain from talking during davening. But we wait for someone else to take the initiative. What we have to realise is that just as we are watching what others are doing, others are watching us. If Reuven and Shimon are talking, and Reuven wants to tell Shimon something questionable, he thinks to himself, if there is anything wrong with what I am saying, Shimon is bound to say, "Reuven I think this is lashon hara." At the same time, Shimon listens, and although he is unsure whether to keep listening or interrupt Reuven, he thinks, "Surely Reuven would not tell me lashon hara." Similarly, if we arrive a little late for a shiur or for learning with a chavrusa or for davening (praying) with a minyan, and we find the Beis Medrash (study hall) full, we might feel guilty and resolve to be more punctual from now on. If on the other hand, we found the Beis Medrash empty, even if we were running very late, our conscience would not be so bothered and we might even feel good about arriving "early".
We depend on the behaviour of others. When others accept additional mitzvos upon themselves, we are inspired to follow their lead. So too if they have a bad habit which we also recognise in ourselves, the poor example which they set, legitimises our own unseemly behaviour to the point where we feel that it cannot really be so bad to conduct one self in this way. We have to take charge and make the first step and be a positive influence for our peers.
Perhaps this was included in our declaration of Na'aseh v'nishma, we will do and we will hear. Whenever I do, I am not only doing for myself, because when I do, I cause others to do, therefore we do. One name for the day we received the Torah is Yom HaKahal, the day of the Assembly (Devarim 10:4; 18:16. See Pachad Yitzchak, Igaros, letter 85). We were all united and felt responsibility for one another.
Last week we discussed the famous teaching of Chazal, "b'kol yom yihiye b'einecha ki'ilu hayom nitna" - every day we should look at the Torah as if it was given today (Rashi, Shemos, 19:1). Perhaps Chazal also meant that every day we should endeavour to re-awaken this sense of unity and mutual responsibility amongst Bnei Yisrael.
Daf Hashavua Kollel Beth HaTalmud Copyright (c) 2001 by Rabbi Yosef Levinson
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