The Mitzvos Transform Us
"Hashem came forth from Sinai, shone forth to them from Seir, having
appeared to them from Mount Paran" (Devarim 33:2)
The Midrash records that prior to Hashem offering the Torah to
Bnei Yisroel, He made it available to the nations of the world. He offered
it to the children of Esau (who lived in the land of Seir). When they
discovered that it contained the prohibition of murder, they rejected the
Torah on the grounds that, by nature, they were a violent people. A similar
result occurred when Hashem offered the Torah to the children of Yishmael
(living in Paran). They rejected it, for it contained the prohibition of
stealing. The following difficulties have to be dealt with: Firstly, the
two precepts that were rejected, namely "Do not murder" and "Do not steal",
are already included in the Seven Noachide Laws.. Therefore, they are
already bound to uphold these precepts. Secondly, the precepts as they
appear in the Noachide Laws are more severe than they are in the Torah. The
punishment for theft in the Torah is a payment of twice the principle.
The Noachide Laws are capital offenses. To be found guilty by a Jewish
court, two witnesses must be present at the scene of the crime, and a
warning to the perpetrator had to have been issued. This is not required to
convict according to the Noachide Laws. Why were they rejecting the Torah
based upon precepts that would have been less restrictive than those that
they were already obligated to keep?
The Rambam in his introduction to Pirkei Avos poses the following question:
Which is a higher service of Hashem, one who by nature does not have the
desire to violate the precepts, or one who struggles with the desire,
finally conquering his evil inclination, and does the will of Hashem?
The Rambam comes to the following conclusion: In the Torah we find two
categories of Mitzvos (precepts). There are those that, by nature, we sense
the obligation to uphold. We understand that violating them would be doing
something intrinsically wrong (i.e. murder, stealing, adultery). The second
category of precepts is those that we would have no inkling of them being
prohibited, were it not for Hashem restricting us from doing them (i.e.
cooking milk together with meat, shaatnez, etc.). Concerning those that we
identify as being wrong, the Torah obligates us not to desire to do them.
The soul that adheres to these precepts, but desires to do them is
defective. Concerning those with which we do not associate an intrinsic
wrong, the higher level of adherence is desiring to do them, but restraining
only because Hashem commands us to do so.
The difference between the Seven Noachide Laws and the 613 Torah laws is not
only quantitative, but qualitative as well. The Noachide Laws are
essentially a directive to insure that society does not self-destruct.
Noachide man is only commanded to act, or desist from acting in a certain
manner. There is no obligation to inculcate the precept into his very being,
no obligation regarding his thoughts or sensitivities. Torah law requires
more than providing a functioning society; it requires that man be a
reflection of his Maker. This is attained by incorporating the precepts into
our very being. "Do not steal" is not merely do not commit the crime; rather
our very being is required to be reviled by the act of stealing.
Those precepts which the nations of the world rejected are from the category
that one is able to sense are wrong (just as are all seven of the Noachide
Laws). However, those who are bound by the Noachide Laws are not commanded
against desiring to do them. What Hashem offered them was an entirely new
level of observance, a qualitative change of themselves as human beings. It
is this which they rejected. It is a quantum leap from being commanded not
to do something, to being commanded to revile the very act itself.
2.Gur Arye 13:26
Reflections Of Weakness
"And if this is how You deal with me, then kill me
After Bnei Yisroel lodged numerous complaints against Moshe and
Hashem, Hashem showed Moshe the horrific punishments which He intended to
bring upon Bnei Yisroel. Moshe responded "im kacha at oseh li hargeini na
harog" - "if this is what You intend to do to me (bear witness to the
punishment of Bnei Yisroel), kill me now". Rashi points out that the
pronoun "aht" - "you" is in the feminine form, indicating that upon hearing
the terrible punishment which awaited Bnei Yisroel, Moshe became weak.
The Ramban strongly disagrees with Rashi's interpretation, noting that the
word "at" in the verse is referring to Hashem and not Moshe as indicated by
Rashi. The Ramban therefore offers an alternative interpretation as to why
the Torah uses the word "at". How does Rashi reconcile his interpretation
with the difficulty posed by the Ramban?
Citing the verse "If a ruler listens to falsehood all his servants are
wicked" the Talmud explains that those who serve the king usually reflect
his moral nature. Rabbi Akiva Eiger cites another section in the Talmud
which appears to contradict this notion. The Talmud states that although
King Yehoyakim was wicked, his generation was righteous and although King
Tzidkiyahu was righteous, his generation was evil.
Careful attention to the text in each section reveals that there is in fact
no contradiction. The statement that equates the ruler with his servants
refers to them as "mesharsim" - his entourage, those who perform personal
service for the king. They are his ambassadors to the people. Therefore they
reflect his true nature for they are extensions of him. The section which
states that certain generations did not reflect the moral nature of their
leaders refers to the king's subjects. A subject does not necessarily
reflect the nature of the leader for he does not enjoy the closeness and
connection which is afforded to the king's personal entourage.
Moshe Rabbeinu earned the status of being the King's ambassador. Therefore,
to the degree that it was humanly possible, Moshe became an extension and
reflection of his Maker. When there is a weakness apparent in the ambassador
the same weakness is attributed to the king. Therefore, Rashi deduces that
since Moshe refers to Hashem uncharacteristically in the female gender which
symbolizes a loss of power, this indicates that Moshe, as the ambassador,
experienced the same weakness. Rashi explains that Moshe experienced this
weakness when he became aware of the pending hardships which awaited his people.
5.Gilyon Hashas ibid
7.Although Hashem has no gender, when describing His strength and power the
Torah refers To Him in the male gender