Bar/Bat Mitzvah: A Re-enactment of "Kabolas Hatorah"
By: Rabbi Yehudah Prero
Guest Contributor: Abraham M. Jeger, Ph.D.
(An earlier version of this D'var Torah was developed in honor of my son,
Yudi, who presented it at his Bar Mitzvah.)
With the advent of each Bar/Bat Mitzvah, a new "Kabolas HaTorah,"
"Acceptance of the Torah," takes place. Part of the daily blessing recited
on the study of Torah, "Birchas HaTorah," is the blessing of "asher bochar
bonu mikol hoamim, venoson lonu es toraso; boruch atoh hashem, nosen
hatorah," "That You have chosen us from amongst the nations, and gave to us
His Torah, Blessed are You G-d, who gives us the Torah." Numerous
commentators have pointed to a change in tense within this Bracha/blessing.
The word "venoson," "and gave" is expressed in the past tense, while the
conclusion of the Bracha, with the word "nosen," "gives," changes to the
present tense. What is the message in this shift of tenses?
A well-known response is that there is really no contradiction. The Torah was
originally given on Mt. Sinai -- a past event -- while at the same time it
continues to be given to every Jew in every generation who accepts the Torah.
Thus, with each new Bar/Bat Mitzvah who willingly accepts the Torah, there
is a fulfillment of "nosen HaTorah" in the present tense.
Because when a young man or woman reaches the age of Bar/Bat Mitzvah, he or
she becomes obligated to follow the precepts of the Torah, it is
appropriate to discuss a pivotal aspect of Kabolas HaTorah, "Acceptance of
the Torah," namely, the notion of "Na'aseh VeNishmah". Literally, the
phrase "Na'aseh VeNishmah" is translated to mean, "we will do, and we will
hear." It is said to capture the essence of Kabolas HaTorah, as it reflects
the ultimate commitment, conveyed spontaneously, by our forefathers during
the revelation at Mt. Sinai.
With this phrase, the nation of Israel was compared to the angels, who
stand ready to act, before even hearing the command. Likewise, our
forefathers made the commitment to perform Hashem's will and adhere to His
commandments prior to receiving any knowledge about the details inherent in
the demands to be placed upon them. This was perceived to be such an
anomaly that the Talmud (Tractate Shabbos; 88a) relates a dialogue between
the sage, Rovah, and a Tzedukki, a Sadducee, who labeled the Jews as an
impulsive people. His argument was that the Jews should have first listened
to what Hashem had to offer, and then consider whether they wished to
accept it or not.
Rav Yosef Ber Soloveitchik (1820-1892) in his Sefer Bais Haleivi (D'rashos
section) expounds on this challenge from a halachic perspective. He cites
the Rambam (Maimonides) in Hilchos Mechirah (Laws of Sales; 11:7) who
states the following: "ha'mechayev atzmo b'davar sh'eino katzuv, ein
ha'chiyuv chal olov k'lal." This means that if a person obligates himself
to purchase something which is not demarcated, something imprecise, then
the deal is off. Similarly, if one commits himself, in a general manner, to
do anything that another person will request of him, then the obligation is
null and void. The reason being that since at the outset one has no way of
knowing what the other person will demand, it is considered to lack precision.
If so -- asks the Bais Haleivi -- how could our forefathers in the desert
have committed themselves to accepting the Torah, before obtaining full
knowledge of all its detailed commandments? He answers as follows:
Even the Rambam, who presented the above p'sak (legal edict), agrees that
one can sell himself into slavery, and thereby obligate himself to do
whatever his master will demand -- despite the fact that at the outset he
lacked the knowledge of specific tasks which may later be requested of him.
How is this different from the previous case? The rationale is that when
one offers himself as a slave, the transaction is qualitatively different
than committing oneself to an isolated obligation. The person is basically
"makneh es gufo" -- he offers his entire body to his master. It then
follows automatically that certain specific behavioral obligations must be
Likewise, when our forefathers uttered the words "Na'aseh Ve'Nishma," they
surrendered their entire beings to Hashem. An automatic consequence of this
lofty subjugation was a self-imposed obligation to adhere to any
Commandments that Hashem would require of them. It was a total "kinyon
haguf," "acquisition of one's body," -- parallel to the sale of a slave.
The commitment of the Nation of Israel to observe 613 Mitzvos
(commandments) is very different than that of a "Ben Noach" (non-Jew) who
must observe 7 Mitzvos. The difference transcends the number of Mitzvos,
and extends to the qualitative nature of the commitment. The obligation of
a Ben-Noach to observe the 7 Mitzvos does not constitute a total
subservience to Hashem. That is merely a limited set of demarcated obligations.
In reference to the Jews, the posuk in Yeshaya, Isaiah (41:8) states,
"yisroel avdi atoh" -- "Nation of Israel, you are my servant." We are
considered "complete" servants to Hashem -- representing a total
subjugation of our beings to His service. This is what differentiates us
from the nations, as the Mechiltah (Shmos 19:4) derives from the verse
found near the giving of the Torah, "veheyisem li segulah mikol hoamim" --
"that you will be my most beloved of nations." The Mechiltah interprets
this to mean "shetiyu kenuyim li ve'oskim b'Torah" -- namely, that you will
constitute my possession, and study the Torah. It is indeed very
appropriate that the Nation of Israel exclaimed "Na'aseh VeNishmah" --
essentially offering their entire being for service to Hashem!
The Bais Haleivi points to several additional consequences which emanate from
this analysis -- and serve to differentiate the Nation of Israel from a Ben
Noach. For example, the Talmud (Sanhedrin 74b) concludes that a Ben Noach is
not mandated to sacrifice his life for a "Kidush Hashem" (sanctification of
G-d). This follows from the position that the seven Mitzvos are purely an
external obligation -- a "chiyuv" -- and not a "kinyan haguf." In contrast,
Jews have a special commandment of "mesiras nefesh for Kidush Hashem"--
forfeiting their lives for the sanctification of G-d's Name. This is besides
the 3 cardinal sins (idolatry, murder, & illicit relations) for which the
ruling of "yehareg ve'al yaavor" (offering oneself for death rather than
Another consequence of "Na'aseh VeNishmah" for the Nation of Israel is that
the level of "kedusha" -- holiness -- which their bodies reached is that of
kedushas haguf, where their entire essence is holy. This is akin to
holiness of the "korbanos" (the sacrificial animals) and the "kli shoreis"
(the utensils used for conducting the Temple service) as opposed to a lower
level of holiness -- namely, "kedushas domim" ("secondary sanctification).
Therefore, the Medrash Rabboh in Parshas Bo explains that the Nation of
Israel has the capacity to be "mekadesh the chodesh" (i.e., sanctify the
new month) since they themselves were directly sanctified by G-d.
Finally, there is another Halachik difference between "kedushas haguf" and
"kedushas domim." The Talmud (Tractate Meilah 19b) states, "ein moel achar
moel be'mukdashim ela bi'behema v'kli shoreis bilvad." This means that
violation of the holiness of a "korban" (sacrificial animal) or a "kli
shoreis" (utensil of Temple service) through secular use does not detract
from their very essence and any additional future violators will still be
prosecuted as "moel be'hekdesh" (violator of sanctity). This is not the
case for items in the lower category of "kedushas domim", whereby a single
instance of secular use withdraws it from the realm of "holiness"
altogether, and any future violation is inconsequential.
Likewise, the nation of Israel can never lose its status in the domain of
"kedushas haguf." This is exemplified by the dictum in Tractate Sanhedrin
(44a) which states that, "Yisroel, af al pi sh'chotah, Yisroel hu" --
meaning, that a Jew who sinned is still a Jew. It does not matter how grave
a sin, nor if his intention is to isolate himself from the nation of Israel
, his withdrawal cannot take effect. The connection of "kedushas haguf" --
the primary sanctity can never be severed. A Jew who sins does not become a
Ben Noach, where he would have to be misgayer (formally "convert" back to
Judaism). Of course, he would still have to do "teshuvah" (repent for his
actions), and Hashem would immediately accept the "teshuvah."
It is hoped that every Bar/Bat mitzvah will re-enact his/her unique and
personal acceptance of the Torah. Furthermore, they should internalize the
true essence of "Na'aseh venishmah" as articulated by our forefathers at