The holiday of Shavuos is upon us again. Though we may not be partaking in the all night study party we usually do, never the less we can still study on our own till dawn if we so choose. Perhaps without the social/community event to motivate us, it may be more indicative of the famous declaration the Jews proclaimed just before receiving the Torah, Naaseh V’Nishma.
Naaseh V’Nishma is translated as “we will do and then we will hear.” The idea being that after the wonders God performed in Egypt, the Children of Israel were given the choice to receive the Torah. With full trust in their Savior, they agreed to all the rules and regulations without reading it. I’ve written a little about their enthusiastic dive headfirst previously.
We are well aware the Jews agreed to the do’s and don’ts (aka the mitzvahs) sight unseen. But there is a bigger picture idea implied. When we click the “I accept” on an Apple license agreement, though we may not read those either, we at least know we’re going to be getting an update of some kind. What were the Jews getting with this agreement?
The Talmud (Shabbos 89a) says that anti-semitism came into the world when the Jews accepted the Torah at Mt. Sinai. (There’s a connection between the word Sinai and the Hebrew word for hate – sinam) The implication is that when the Jews are doing what they are supposed to things are good. But when they stray from the path, the world turns on them. It’s a startling notion. But it’s also startling how much persecution the Jews have suffered over the last 2,000 years and the reasons for them have always been illogical. So if this moment was in fact the source of such hardships, when the Jews said Naaseh, were they aware that they were taking on a mission with such profound consequences?
If we look at the verse when God makes His proposition He tells Moses to tell the Jews (Shemos 19:3-6) (Paraphrasing) You saw what I did to Egypt, I carried you on the wings of eagles. Now if you listen diligently to My voice, and preserve My covenant, you shall be My special treasure.
Most of that is pretty clear, but does anywhere in there give us the expectation of a mission? The most likely indicator is “Preserve My covenant.” God is referring to the covenant with Avraham. The Hebrew word for covenant, bris means a partnership. Not a contract, where two parties come together for the sake of a mutually beneficial opportunity. But an agreement where two parties care about the benefit of the other.
But what exactly is this covenant? Make sure our sons’ get circumcised? Populate the land of Israel? If we look at the section of the Torah where we make Kiddush, the last line reads, “God blessed the Seventh Day and sanctified it because on it He had abstained for His work which God had created to make.” (Bereishis 2:3) That last “to make” is a little odd. Take it out and the sentence reads just fine. So what’s it doing there? The Chasam Sofer says the extra word indicates that God labored to make the world and entrusted it to mankind to finish it.
The Vilna Goan also points out that the word bris is connected to the word briat or creator. So when Hashem made that covenant with Avraham he was making him a co-creator of the world. And so with the nation at Mt. Sinai, they too understood that, and they were given the personal choice to continue to accept that mission.
So it seems the Children of Israel did at least understand they were taking on more than just being a treasured nation via some laws they’d read about later. They understood this was going to be for a purpose, an end goal. And in my opinion, every Jew, observant or secular, tradition or unaffiliated, deep down, is aware on some level we have a mission. On Shavuos, we have the opportunity to reexperience the accepting of the Torah. However, for what reason are you doing it? Community? For our own spiritual fulfillment? Or are we aware by accepting the Torah we become a part of a purpose far beyond ourselves?