Shavuos 5778 part two

Coerced acceptance, part two[1]

וישלח את-נערי בני ישראל ויעלו עלת ויזבחו זבחים שלמים ליקוק פרים
[Moshe] dispatched the lads of Israel, and they brought up offerings; they slaughtered bulls as peace offerings to Hashem[2]

Before[3] the giving of the Torah, the Jews had tremendous anticipation for the Divine Revelation at Mount Sinai. Moshe dispatched the important members[4] of Israel to bring offerings to Hashem, as a sign of thanks for this momentous occasion. The verse refers to them as נערים, implying they were young lads. Indeed, when the Jews were forced by King Ptolemy to translate the Torah to Greek[5], they were concerned about this implication. Knowing the verse really spoke about the important members of the Jews, they used the Greek translation of the word זאטוטי, which means dignitaries[6]. This avoided any misunderstandings of the correct meaning of the verse. However, if this is what the verse means, why is it written this way? Why doesn’t it just say what it means[7]?

The Chasam Sofer offers[8] an interested suggestion. There is a concept known as גר כקטן שנולד דמי, a convert is considered as if they are born anew[9]. This has various applications in Jewish law. The Jews, on the day they accepted the Torah, officially converted to the Jewish faith[10]. Therefore, even though the dignitaries were quite old, when they converted it was like they were young again[11]. This is why the verse refers to them as young lads. This however creates a new difficulty in understanding the verse. The verse seems to be stressing that Moshe dispatched the young lads, as if they were some special group of people. According to this explanation, everyone attained the status of a newborn. Why does the verse imply that they were different than anyone else?

The answer is based on a couple of innovative ideas. The first comes from the Maharal, who addresses[12] a question that comes from the concept that a convert is considered as if they are born anew. The gemarra says[13] that although this isn’t practiced[14], technically a convert can marry their relatives, as they are now no longer considered kin. There’s an episode in the Torah[15] where there were Jews crying because since they accepted the Torah, they could no longer marry their relatives[16]. Why should that be so? They converted at Mount Sinai and were considered born anew. They should be permitted to marry their relatives! The Maharal answers that the concept that a convert is considered born anew is only when they convert willingly. At Mount Sinai, Hashem hung a mountain over their head, coercing them into converting[17]. Therefore, they weren’t considered born anew[18].

The second idea is from the Chida, who says[19] that only the average person[20] had the mountain hung over their heads. However, the righteous individuals, those with perfect faith in Hashem, they were the ones who were sincere when they said: “we will fulfill and we will listen”[21]. They didn’t need to be coerced into accepting the Torah, and in fact, weren’t. This means that the righteous became born anew, unlike those who were coerced[22]. Those who were coerced were still related to their family members, and therefore were now forbidden from marrying them. Some even complained about this. However the righteous, who could technically marry their kin, weren’t temped to so, and had nothing to complain about.

Therefore, putting all this together, we now have a new understanding of what the Chasam Sofer says. Moshe dispatched the “young lands” to bring offerings to Hashem. These were really the dignitaries of the Jewish people. Why were they called “young lads”? They had just converted to the Jewish faith, and were considered born anew. Why is the verse stressing that they were young lads, when everyone had become born anew? The reason is because only the righteous, who accepted the Torah willingly, were born anew. The common person had to be coerced into accepting the Torah, and thus would not be described as a “young lad”.

Good Shabbos and Chag Sameach!

[1] Based on a devar Torah I heard from Rabbi Eliyahu Wolf, which he put in his upcoming book on Shir HaShirim

[2] Exodus 24:5

[3] See Rashi to verse 1

[4] Rashi to verse 5 says they were the elders of the firstborns of the Jews

[5] Megillah 9a

[6] Rashi ad. loc.

[7] Imrei Shefer, quoted in Sifsei Chachamim ad. loc. explains (basing himself on the Ramban) that in comparison to the אצילי בני ישראל mentioned in verse 11, these individuals were like young lads

[8] Toras Moshe I ad. loc.

[9] Yevamos 22a, 48b, 62a, 97a; Bechoros 47a. The Sages at the time of Ptolemy were concerned he wouldn’t understand this concept, so they had to alter the translation to fit the intent

[10] Kerisos 9a, brought by Rashi to verse 6

[11] It would seem that the timeline is that they first accepted the Torah, underwent conversion, brought the offerings, and afterwards were given the Torah

[12] Gur Aryeh to Genesis 46:10 § 5

[13] Yevamos 22a

[14] The Rabbis decreed against it (Yevamos loc. cit.)

[15] Numbers 11:10 with Rashi, his source being Yoma 75a, Shabbos 130a, and Yerushalmi Ta’anis 4:5, amongst others

[16] Even though a non-Jew already can’t marry some of their relatives (see Mishneh Torah Hilchos Melachim 9:5), Rashbi (in the Yerushalmi Ta’anis loc. cit.) says when the Jews converted six more relatives became prohibited: (1) paternal sister (2) maternal sister (3) paternal aunt (4) maternal aunt (5) a niddah (6) a brother’s wife (Korbon HaEidah ad. loc. Note the Rambam disagrees about maternal sister. It would seem the Korbon HaEidah is explaining the Yerushalmi according to the opinion of Rashbi’s teacher Rabbi Akiva in Sanhedrin 57b-58, who permits a non-Jew to their sister. The Rambam doesn’t rule like Rabbi Akiva; see Kesef Mishnah and Gra ad. loc.)

[17] As explained in part one

[18] This innovation is brought in the introduction to Shev Shematesa אות ט’, as well as in Keli Chemdah to Genesis 46:10, where they explain it at length. See also Sefer Apiryon parshas Bamidbar. Cf. Meshech Chochmah to Deuteronomy 5:27 who disagrees with this

[19] Ahavas Dovid Drush 16 ד”ה ודע דמוכח מרעיא, where he sees this from the words of the Zohar III, Raya Mehemna pg. 125a. He likewise says this in his commentary to the Zohar, Nitzotzei Oros ad. loc. § 4

[20] עמי הארץ

[21] I didn’t see the Chida say this part, but I assume Rabbi Wolf inferred it from what the Chida says explicitly. With this, we have a new answer to the question from part one: why did they need to be coerced into accepting the Torah, when they already said: “we will fulfill and we will listen”? The answer is, those that truly meant it, weren’t coerced, unlike the rest, who were. Once it’s possible to say that not everyone needed to be coerced, although the Chida clearly doesn’t mean this, I want to say a different explanation based on the Be’er Yosef (see Shemos Rabbah 42:8, Yalkut Tehillim § 820, and Yalkut Yeshaya § 508 all indicate that the Jews were insincere when they said נעשה ונשמע. Some say they even intended to worship idols at that time. The Be’er Yosef wants to say that this was only the wicked people amongst the Jews, while the rest were totally sincere. If so, we can say that only the wicked (and not the common folk) needed to be coerced into accepting the Torah. Everyone else accepted it willingly

[22] Rabbi Wolf brought a proof to the combination of these two ideas from Zevachim 101b,102a. The gemarra asks who declared Miriam a metzora, someone who had contracted tzara’as. It had to be a Kohen, and the only one at the time was Aharon, her brother. The gemarra says it couldn’t be her brother Moshe, as he wasn’t a Kohen. The gemarra then says Aharon was disqualified as he was her relative. Why didn’t the gemarra also say that Moshe was her relative? The Keli Chemdah loc. cit., the Ostrovzter Rebbe, Rav Meir Yechiel (brought in Siach Chochmah Shavuos § 16), and Rav Eliyahu Shik In Ein Eliyahu ad. loc. answer that while the whole nation was coerced into converting, Miriam and Aharon included, Moshe didn’t need coercion. His faith was perfect. Moshe wasn’t coerced, and was therefore born anew. Cf. Maharsha ad. loc. Even though they single out Moshe from the rest of the Jews, we see that it’s possible to say that some Jews were born anew while others weren’t

One Reply to “Shavuos 5778 part two”

Comments are closed.