Torah Fax

Friday, May 21, 2004 - 1 Sivan, 5764

Torah Reading: Bamidbar (Numbers 1:1 - 4:20)
Candle Lighting Time:  7:54 PM
Shabbat Ends: 9:02 PM:

Involved Emotionally

Our sages tell us that at the giving of the Torah, the Jews didn’t passively listen as G‑d told them the Ten Commandments, they verbally accepted each Commandment individually. What exactly the Jews said to voice their acceptance is (not surprisingly) a matter of dispute between the rabbis of the Talmud.
When G‑d would make an affirmative declaration (such as “Remember the Sabbath day”), all are in agreement that the Jews responded with a resounding “Yes!” The dispute arises with regard to the proscriptive statements (such as “Do no commit murder”). Rabbi Yishmael says that the Jews’ response was “No!” - meaning, “I will not go against your will.” Rabbi Akiva, on the other hand, is of the opinion that the response for both types of commandments was the same: “Yes!” - implying total compliance with whatever it was G‑d wanted us to do, or refrain from doing.
Granted, the rabbis of the Talmud are known to have argued about some hair-splitting issues from time to time, but what is the significance of the dispute here? Is there any real difference between the two statements? Whether the response to G‑d’s negative commandments was yes or no, it was clear that the Jews intended to totally accept G‑d’s decrees.
Chassidic thought discerns from these two opinions two legitimate, but diverse (and conflicting...) approaches to the observance of Torah and its Mitzvahs.
Some people put great effort in recognizing G‑d’s greatness and limitlessness. Consequently, the individuals taking this approach lose any feeling of self-worth. This approach is known as “accepting the yoke of heaven” - giving selflessly of oneself to the will of G‑d.
When a person accepts the authority of G‑d, devoting himself totally to the “Commander,” the devotion is unequivocal and absolute. It makes no difference whether G‑d wants us to do something, or refrain from doing it.
In addition, this approach leaves no room for subjective feelings. The one who accepts upon himself the yoke of Heaven will perform the most burdensome Mitzvah and the most enjoyable one with the same sense of duty and zeal. He gives no relevance to his personal interest or appreciation of a specific Mitzvah - the main thing is to fulfill G‑d’s will - whatever that will may be.
Interestingly, this approach also doesn’t distinguish between “logical” Mitzvahs and those that have no apparent rational reason. Whether the issue is honoring one’s parents or not mixing wool and linen (shatnez) - they are both G‑d’s will.
This approach is reflected in Rabbi Akiva’s opinion that the Jews responded to both G‑d’s positive and negative commandments with the uniform response of “Yes!” Whether G‑d was offering the most dynamic, action oriented Mitzvah or a negative Mitzvah which required great self restraint, no emotional ties or subjective leanings were registered in their response. The sentiment showed a complete and total surrender to G‑d.
Rabbi Yishmael, however, feels that a total surrender of ego is not enough. We must allow the Mitzvahs to permeate our emotions and our feelings. Part of G‑d’s plan is that every aspect of our being - our feelings, our intellect, our personalities - be involved in our service of Him. Indeed, some of the most basic commandments, like love of G‑d, fearing Him and being joyous, require by their very nature developing an emotional attachment to G‑d - not the ignoring of those emotions!
Therefore, Rabbi Yishmael is of the opinion that for different Mitzvahs, the Jews’ response was different. A positive Mitzvah requires a positive response: “Yes, not only will we do whatever G‑d says in a robotic fashion, we are ready to become involved in that Mitzvah with our heart and soul.” Conversely, when G‑d told them of a negative commandment, they said: “No, not only will we avoid that act because it is G‑d’s will, but we will be repulsed by it with every fiber of our being. The prohibitive Mitzvah has become part of us.”
Clearly, both approaches are important and (although they are mutually exclusive!) we should try to incorporate both of them in our lives. However just as Moshiach will help us fulfill all commandments in their most complete way (Maimonides, Laws of Moshiach 11:1), so, too, will the true synthesis of these two views be accomplished through Moshiach.              
Moshiach Matters

In the future, the miracles of the Exodus will be secondary in comparison to those of Moshiach. Our Sages note that the Exodus will not lose its place in our history but it will be secondary in significance to the Final Redemption, due to the profound, overwhelming miracles which will be performed in the Messianic Era. (Highlights of Moshiach by Rabbi A. Stone)

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