י״ז בטבת ה׳תשע״ג (December 30, 2012)

Shabbat 88a-b: Are We Obligated to Keep the Torah?

In the course of discussing how the Children of Israel received the Torah on Mount Sinai, the Gemara cites additional homiletic interpretations on the topic of the revelation at Sinai.

The Torah says, “And Moses brought forth the people out of the camp to meet God; and they stood at the lowermost part of the mount” (Shemot 19:17). Rabbi Avdimi bar Ḥama bar Ḥasa said: the Jewish people actually stood beneath the mountain, and the verse teaches that the Holy One, Blessed be He, overturned the mountain above the Jews like a tub, and said to them: If you accept the Torah, excellent, and if not, there will be your burial. Rav Aha bar Ya’akov said: From here there is a substantial caveat to the obligation to fulfill the Torah. The Jewish people can claim that they were coerced into accepting the Torah, and it is therefore not binding. Rava said: Even so, they again accepted it willingly in the time of Ahasuerus, as it is written: “The Jews ordained, and took upon them, and upon their seed, and upon all such as joined themselves unto them” (Esther 9:27), and he taught: The Jews ordained what they had already taken upon themselves through coercion at Sinai.

The Rashba challenged Rav Aha bar Ya’akov’s argument that the Jewish people can argue that they were forced to accept the Torah against their will. If this is the case, why were the Jewish people punished and exiled from their land for having violated the Torah? He explains that certainly the Jews’ continued existence in Eretz Yisrael is contingent on their fulfillment of the Torah’s commandments. In other words, it is explained that holding the uprooted mountain like a tub over their heads alludes to the abundance of love that God bestowed upon the Jewish people during the Exodus, in giving them the manna, etc. In response, the people said: “We will do, and we will hear.” Still, in their hearts the people did not accept the Torah on behalf of later generations, for whom life would proceed naturally, without the revelation of constant miracles.

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