First Refusals

(Torah Portion Yisro) First Refusals!

The Medrash relates that before G-d offered the Torah to the Jewish nation, He contacted prophets from every nation of the world and asked them if they were willing to accept the Torah so that in the future, the nations could never have a claim, “If we were asked, perhaps we would also have accepted the Torah.”

Each of the representatives of the nations requested a preview of the responsibilities the Torah requires.

The Medrash clues us in on the conversation G-d had between three of the main nations. To the nation of Edom, G-d said “I command you not to murder.” They responded that that would be impossible because they inherited a murderous nature from their ancestor Aisav who is identified with the sword.

To the nations of Amon and Moav G-d said, “I command you not to commit adultery.” To which they responded that their ancestors were born from incestuous relationships, and they therefore cannot accept a law that conflicts with their very nature.

To the nation of Yishmael G-d said, “I command you not to steal.” To which they responded that our temperament is to lust that which belongs to others and we must reject the Torah.

G-d then went to the Jewish people and asked if they would accept the Torah and they all responded in unison, “We will do and we will hear.” The Jewish nation accepted the Torah unconditionally and became G-d’s chosen people. We collectively became adorned and invested with a Kingly, Priestly and Holy mandate.

The Avnai Nezer asks a very interesting question: When the nations were informed of the law they were expected to abide by, they were each told something that went against their basic nature and tendencies, and they therefore claimed they could not accept the Torah.

But still, the nations can protest and say that perhaps the Jews were only able to accept the Torah because whatever is stated and commanded in it does not go against their basic tendencies. If there would have been a law which they could not handle, they also wouldn’t have accepted the Torah.

The Avnai Nezer answers with something very profound and insightful: Before the Jews accepted the Torah without knowing any data, facts or laws they were twice prohibited from ascending Mount Sinai during G-d’s Revelation. The Jewish soul by its very nature is drawn to further its connection to G-d and spirituality. Any limitation to their advancement towards spirituality goes against their basic makeup. Thus this law not to ascend the mountain which inhibited their advancement to further their spiritual quest went against their nature, yet they conformed to it and listened to G-d’s command. With this they demonstrated their total commitment to everything G-d had in store for them in the Torah.

Rabbi Yaacov Kamenetzky o.b.m. explains further the nature of the Jew’s challenge not to advance up the mountain. Generally speaking, when a person is tempted to do something prohibited, he sees the spiritual decline he will suffer by doing the prohibited action and it helps him to refrain from doing it. But in regards to the prohibition not to ascend Mount Sinai which limited their spiritual advancement they could have rationalized saying, “In this situation, my advancement upon the Mountain will ultimately get me to a higher realm of spirituality and perhaps it will be beneficial to break the boundary and ascend the mountain for thereby we will attain the ultimate goal of basking in the presence of G-d.”

For this reason G-d had to instruct Moshe to warn the nation and then a second time right before the event, to teach them that no matter what rationale they may have for breaking the rules, they will suffer the consequences because that is not what G-d wants them to do.

Right from the onset, at our acceptance of the Torah, G-d felt it vital to impress upon His nation how essential it is for each of us to turn to G-d’s Torah direction and law in order to determine our true spiritual destiny!

In the fourth commandment which speaks about remembering and observing the Shabbos, the Torah tells us, “During six days of the week do all your work; and the Seventh day is Shabbos to G-d.”

The question is how is it possible that all our work will be done during the six days? Rashi explains that the Torah is telling us the mindset we are to have when we enter into Shabbos, “We should consider that we have completed everything and we have nothing else to do so that when Shabbos comes our minds will be completely at rest.”

Shabbos is a wonderful phenomenon; we relinquish control over that which we often think about, affording us the opportunity to truly enjoy the peace, rest and delicacies of Shabbos. For on Shabbos, when we turn everything over to the Highest Power – G-d – the One who is in control over everything, it infuses holiness, serenity and blessings into every aspect of our lives!

Have a most enjoyable, restful and peaceful Shabbos!
Rabbi Dovid Saks