Parshat Yitro – 5773 Rabbi Shaanan Gelman Drasha

One of the most often quoted yet most troubling Talmudic sources dealing with Matan Torah is found in Mesechet Shabbat:

‫תלמוד בבלי מסכת שבת דף פח עמוד א‬ ‫אויתיצבו בתחתית ההר, אמר רב אבדימי בר חמא בר חסא: מלמד שכפה הקדוש ברוך‬ ‫הוא עליהם את ההר כגיגית, ואמר להם: אם אתם מקבלים התורה - מוטב, ואם לאו - שם‬ .‫תהא קבורתכם. אמר רב אחא בר יעקב: מכאן מודעא רבה לאורייתא‬

God says to the Bnei Yisrael "Accept upon yourselves the Torah, or be prepared to suffer the consequences!" A serious question arises in light of the phrase which we will be reading next week, "‫ ,"נעשה ונשמע‬we will do and we will listen; for which the Bnei Yisrael were praised as they demonstrated a willingness to accept upon themselves the precepts of the Torah.
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‫‪The implication we get is that the Torah was optional, and the fact‬‬ ‫‪that we chose this lifestyle is a crucial piece of our religious‬‬ ‫‪ is‬כפה עליהם הר כגיגית ‪identity. The first problem with the agadata of‬‬ ‫.‪that it robs us of that identity‬‬ ‫‪The second problem is that from a legalistic/halachic standpoint it‬‬ ‫:‪doesn’t work. The Rambam deals with a sale which was coerced‬‬ ‫רמב"ם הלכות מכירה פרק י‬ ‫הלכה א‬ ‫מי שאנסוהו עד שמכר ולקח דמי המקח, אפילו תלוהו עד שמכר א ממכרו ממכר בין‬ ‫במטלטלין בין בקרקעות שמפני אונסו גמר ומקנה, אע"פ שלא לקח הדמים בפני העדים,‬ ‫לפיכך אם מסר מודעה קודם שימכור, ואמר לשני עדים דעו שזה שאני מוכר חפץ פלוני‬ ‫או שדה פלוני לפלוני מפני שאני אנוס ב1, הרי הממכר בטל, ואפילו החזיק כמה שנים‬ ‫מוציאין אותה מידו ומחזיר הדמים.‬ ‫‪If the seller in the above case indicates that he doesn’t want the‬‬ ‫.‪sale to go through then it is not a good sale‬‬ ‫מכאן מודעה רבה ,‪And that is what the Gemara means when it says‬‬ ‫‪, from here is our “great answer” to God. Should we feel‬לאורייתא‬

‫1 הגהות מיימוניות הלכות מכירה פרק י‬ ‫הלכה א‬ ‫]א[ פירשו התוס' דמיירי שדחקוהו עד שאמר רוצה אני דאל"כ לא הוה זביניה זביני כדמשמע פ' קמא דב"מ ובעשרה יוחסין ונחזי זוזי ממאן‬ ‫נקט וכו' מחד מדעתיה מחד ומחד בע"כ וכן משמע להדיא ס"פ הכונס:‬

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that at any point we are being unduly judged, we can simply respond that we never accepted the Torah in the first place! And so, if the sale is not a sale, what is it that we have accomplished with Kabalat HaTorah!? Some might explain as follows: The next line in the Gemara responds that nonetheless we returned in the days of Achashveirosh and accepted the Torah willingly, thus cementing our relationship with Hakadosh Baruch Hu.

Rav Chasdai Crescas, 14th Century Spanish philosopher of Barcelona, in his work ‫ )אור ה' )מאמר ב, כלל ה, ו‬has an interesting way of explaining this aggadata: He claims that the ideal state of a believing person is to suspend all of his own intellectual faculties and to accept the yoke of Torah. If a person’s ‫ אמונה‬is contingent upon a miracle or a sound argument, ultimately that person has not fully embraced the Almighty. Only when we reach

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a level of acceptance of God whether or not we will it, has a true covenant been attained.

The problem with this approach in my humble view is that such a commitment, forged under duress, doesn’t work. Generally speaking when it comes to inculcating an individual or a group of people with a given set of values and laws, coercion is assumed by behavioral psychologists to be the least effective method for two reasons: 1) It is dangerous: Those who have been forced to live their lives a certain way under duress often emerge psychologically scarred. Studies have been conducted on autistic children in which Coercive psychological systems have been invoked to force learning and adoption of designated sets of beliefs. These methods, once deemed effective, violate the basic human rights of the individuals. When utilized victims become confused, intimidated and silenced, undergoing great emotional distress. The victim becomes compliant and brainwashed2, changed but certainly not better off.

There is a second problem with coercive behavioral management:
http://www.theneurotypical.com/psychological_coercion.html 2

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2) It doesn’t last While compulsion and intimidation may produce results immediately the type of commitment engendered is much more fragile and tenuous than what we might hope for. In March of 1774, in response to the British Tea Party, the British Parliament adopted the Coercive (Intolerable) Acts. The intention was to curtail to limit the freedoms of the colonies and to curb any aspirations of independence. However, the exact opposite outcome took place, and the Intolerable acts caused hatred to grow amidst the colonies. These laws were viewed as so extreme and repressive that it became difficult for the most moderate leaders in the colonies to speak in favor of Parliament. An immediate result was the formation of the First Continental Congress, which boycotted British goods and pledged military support if necessary to Massachusetts. This was significant because it meant that all of the colonies would be involved when the American Revolutionary War began. Thus coercion, not only damages the creates a weak level of commitment to law, yielding the exact opposite result of the initial objective.

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And so we have to ask why the Kadosh Baruch Hu would elect to begin our relationship by way of force? There is one area in halach which possibly above all others hinges upon the theme of of religious coercion: the ‫ ,גט מעושה‬or the forced Get. Enormous is the plight of the aguna, the woman forced to endure an agonizing delay as she waits desperately for a recalcitrant husband to give her a Get. One of the earliest solutions proposed to the problem was by the Maimonides. He teaches us that if a man refuses to give his wife a Jewish divorce he can be forced through public humiliation, excommunication, financial threat and even physical assault: '‫רמב"ם משנה תורה, הל' גירושין פרק ב‬ ‫)כ( מי שהדין נותן שכופין אותו לגרש את אשתו ולא רצה לגרש בית דין של ישראל בכל‬ ... ‫מקום ובכל זמן מכין אותו עד שיאמר רוצה אני ויכתוב הגט והוא גט כשר‬

And why, asks the Rambam, does a forced Get seem to work? He explains that when a person is forced into a sale that he doesn’t want, the sale is null and void, because he doesn’t really want to go through with the deal, but when he is forced into performing a mitzvah, even though
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‫‪his yetzer hara may have convinced him otherwise temporarily, it is not‬‬ ‫:‪considered as if he is being compelled to do something against his will‬‬ ‫ולמה לא בטל גט זה שהרי הוא אנוס בין ביד גוים בין ביד ישראל שאין אומרין אנוס אלא‬ ‫למי שנלחץ ונדחק לעשות דבר שאינו מחוייב מן התורה לעשותו כגון מי שהוכה עד‬ ‫שמכר או נתן אבל מי שתקפו יצרו הרע לבטל מצוה או לעשות עבירה והוכה עד‬ ‫שעשה דבר שחייב לעשותו או עד שנתרחק מדבר שאסור לעשותו אין זה אנוס ממנו‬ ‫אלא הוא אנס עצמו בדעתו הרעה לפיכך זה שאינו רוצה לגרש מאחר שהוא רוצה‬ ‫להיות מישראל רוצה הוא לעשות כל המצות ולהתרחק מן העבירות ויצרו הוא‬ ‫שתקפו וכיון שהוכה עד שתשש יצרו ואמר רוצה אני כבר גרש לרצונו לא היה הדין נותן‬ ‫שכופין אותו לגרש וטעו בית דין של ישראל או שהיו הדיוטות ואנסוהו עד שגירש הרי זה‬ ‫גט פסול הואיל וישראל אנסוהו יגמור ויגרש ואם הגוים אנסוהו לגרש שלא כדין אינו גט‬ ‫אע"פ שאמר בגוים רוצה אני ואמר לישראל כתבו וחתמו הואיל ואין הדין מחייבו להוציא‬ ‫והגוים אנסוהו אינו גט:‬ ‫‪In other words, in the heart of every Jew is an immutable spirit which‬‬ ‫‪always seeks to do the right thing. And even when externally he will‬‬ ‫‪desire something negative, that is nothing but a momentary lapse in‬‬ ‫.‪judgment‬‬ ‫‪And so why must they be forced? Why should the mountain have to be‬‬ ‫?‪suspended above their heads‬‬ ‫‪Based on the Rambam we can suggest that although the Jewish children‬‬ ‫‪may have gone through a temporary lapse in judgment and not be able to‬‬
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recognize the inherent good it has to offer, the Torah was forced upon .them in order that they realize the inherent desire they posses The problem with this approach is that it always assumes that the “rabbis know best”, that every time a Jew ventures out into their car on Shabbat what is truly in their heart is to go to shul and hear the kriyat haTorah. When a descendant of Abraham prepares for himself some bacon and eggs what he really wants is a piece of gefilte fish and chulent; if only the Beit din had been available to administer lashes so that he could !realize his true desires Rabbi Riskin cites a slightly different approach from the Meshech :(Chochma, Rav Meir Simcha of Dvinsk (Shemot 19:17 He argues that only a person who announces that he is observant of Torah law and that he wishes to listen to the commandments may be compelled to listen to the Sages, but if he never felt that way himself, :then compulsion is of no use ‫א"כ גם הכא, שרצון נפש הישראלי נוטה בטבע ובחפץ נמרץ פנימי לקיים מצות ד', רק‬ ‫עצת היצר תקפה עליו, מיד כשיוכה מכות אכזריות יוסר חפץ החומר ועושה המעשה‬ ‫שמגרש או מביא קרבן, זהו חפץ פנימי לעצמיות המצוה הוא רצון גמור‬

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And so in this nuanced approach to the Rambam, Rav Meir Simcha argues that it is not the Beis Din who forces the man to do what is right, but rather the man himself who forces himself to do what is right since he has at one point accepted upon himself the yoke of Torah, even if right at the moment he isn’t up to the challenge. One may understand this better through the following analogy: If I see a delicious slice of pecan pie on the table and my best friend reaches out in front of my eyes, grabbing the pie and discarding it before I can indulge. At first glance it would seem that he is being paternalistic and has no right to barge in and prevent me from eating delicious snack. But, if I had made it known that I am on a diet and this is just a moment of weakness, then my friend is not being intrusive, on the contrary, he is being most helpful. Rabbi Riskin brings another example. Imagine it is late at night and you are eager to get home after a long day. You are caught speeding and the policeman pulls you over. The natural tendency is to argue ones way out of the ticket, perhaps introduce a tall tale about an emergency that you were involved in, or by manufacturing some other excuse. But after you’ve weaseled yourself out of a ticket and have made a complete mockery of the legal system, you would never degrade the police officer or suggest that he serves no purpose at all. On the contrary, you would
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claim that he serves a very important function, maintaining order and a law abiding society. Without laws and police, it would be ‫ ,הפקר‬rule of the jungle, every man for himself. If traffic lights and stop signs weren’t present the death toll on the road would be astronomical. Nonetheless, at the moment in which the law is deemed temporarily inconvenient, we seek exemption even if we fully understand and endorse the basis of its existence and why harsh penalties have to be enforced. And in the grander scheme of things, we actually appreciate the fact that the police officer pulls me over for going too fast, because I have children at home and get frightened every time a car screeches by at insane speeds. Similarly, those of us who openly acknowledge God and his mitzvoth, understand and appreciate the coercion. It is precisely because we accept the Torah, that we need the .‫כפה עליהם הר כגיגית‬ What emerges is a vital lesson for Jewish education and for the reinforcement of our values. According to the Meshech Chochma, there is no magical indomitable spirit that will always elect to do the moral and proper thing. It’s only when we initially celebrate the Torah and embrace its virtues that a coercive or punitive system has a positive effect. If we want for example, that our children should love shabbos and not text their friends, we cannot begin by forcing them, because they will at best resent us and God and at worst will reject the entire program
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altogether. But if we first spend the time laying the foundation, showing them the beauty of Shabbos, of Zemirot of sitting next to your father or mother in shul, of afternoon programs etc… then when the time comes to lay down the law, it will actually work! Jewish guilt and stern looks will not secure the continuity of our people if they are not layered on top of a meaningful underpinning. By the time it comes to trying to convince a child not to intermarry or to have to beg someone not to cremate a parent – it might already be too late for bad cop to step in. There is no magic in ‫ ,כפה עליהם הר כגיגית‬it is merely a reminder of what we have already declared to be important – ‫.נעשה ונשמע‬

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