Seven short weeks after Yetzias Mitzrayim, Bnei Yisroel were standing at Har Sinai, being offered the Torah. “You saw what I did to Mitzrayim, that I carried you out on the wings of eagles and brought you to me. And now if you listen to my voice and keep my covenant, you will be a treasure to me from all the peoples, for the Earth is Mine. You will be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation…” And they accepted the offer — “Everything that Hashem has said we will do.” (Shemos 19:4-8)
Bnei Yisroel’s answer is perplexing. We are known as a stiff-necked, intelligent, perceptive and inquisitive people. Why did they not say, “Wait a minute, the offer looks good but it’s vague. What is in this covenant? What does it require us to do?” Since when has a Jew signed a contract without reading the small print? And in this case, there wasn’t even any small print. They were being asked to agree to a life-long commitment to keep a covenant without any idea of what was involved. As the Tzeduki said to Rava (Shabbos 89.)”You are an impulsive people for agreeing to accept the Torah without knowing what was in it.”
In fact, the nations of the world were apparently better negotiators. When Hashem offered them the Torah, they asked what was in it. Hearing that it contained commands which they were not prepared to keep, they duly turned down the offer. But the Bnei Yisroel just accepted the deal blindly, lock, stock and barrel! Why?
In Parshas Beshalach (13:21) we read, “Hashem went before them by day in a pillar of cloud and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light so they could travel by day and by night.” The Shem Mishmuel asks, ‘Why did the Bnei Yisroel have to travel by night?’ Who was in charge of their travel arrangements? Hashem. Couldn’t he arrange for travelling by day and resting by night? And if you will say that that they were in a hurry and couldn’t delay, that is no answer because Hashem had already done a kefitzas haderech to bring the Bnei Yisroel from all over Mitzrayim in one night so that they should all leave together. If there was any special hurry, He could have done another kefitzas haderech and Bnei Yisroel could have arrived at any destination Hashem wanted in plenty of time without travelling by night. So why was there a need for the pillar of fire to make night travel possible?
One possible answer to the Shem Mishmuel’s question is based on an important passage in Parshas Behaalosecho (Bemidbar 9:15-23). “On the day that the Mishkan was set up, the cloud covered the Mishkan and in the evening a fiery appearance would cover it…When the cloud lifts the Bnei Yisroel will journey and when the cloud stops the Bnei Yisroel will encamp. According to the word of Hashem the Bnei Yisroel will journey and according to the word of Hashem will the Bnei Yisroel encamp…If the cloud stays on the Mishkan for a long time, the Bnei Yisroel will not travel. If the cloud is only on the Mishkan for a few days, by the word of Hashem they will travel and by the word of Hashem they will travel. Sometimes the cloud will be over the Mishkan for one night or a day and a night and then the cloud will move on. Sometimes the cloud will be over the Mishkan for two days or a month or a year and the Bnei Yisroel will remain encamped and when the cloud goes up they will travel. According to the word of Hashem they will be encamped, according to the word of Hashem they will travel; they will follow the instructions of Hashem according to the word of Hashem through Moshe.”
Reb Moshe Schwab zt”l once spoke about the message of the pesukim which seem to be rather wordy. He said that we can learn from here how to conduct our lives, always according to the will of Hashem. We may have made plans but if Hashem has other plans, we have to change course. Surely the Bnei Yisroel would have liked at the very least an idea of how long they would be staying in one place. They didn’t know whether it would be one day or twenty years. How can you live your life like that? But Bnei Yisroel were absorbing the message. We have to be prepared to follow Hashem’s will in any situation, whatever that entails. Following on this idea of Reb Moshe, and based on the well-known posuk “Lehagid baboker chasdecho ve’emunosecho baleilos,” (Tehilim 92:3), perhaps we can answer the Shem Mishmuel’s question of why Hashem sometimes required the Bnei Yisroel to travel by night by saying that this was necessary to show that sometimes the way Hashem wants us to go is easy and pleasant, symbolised by day. And sometimes Hashem chooses a path which at least for now is not so pleasant for us. We may be tested and challenged; this is symbolized by night but we still have to maintain our emuna and bitachon, following this path with Hashem.
Another answer to the Shem Mishmuel’s question could also answer our original question about Bnei Yisroel’s acceptance of the Torah without knowing what was in it. Let us picture a family scene: little Shimmy is playing with his toys when his father tells him that they need to go out. Will Shimmy ask where they need to go and why? Will he suggest that maybe it would be a better use of his time to stay at home with his toys? Of course not. He knows his father loves him, does everything for him and knows what’s best for him. If his father says they need to go, he relies totally on his father and off they go.
Hashem had shown His love for Bnei Yisroel in Mitzrayim. He had kept His promise to Avrohom Ovinu of bringing them out of exile after even less than four hundred years. They had gone out with great riches as promised. He had punished their enemies. He had protected them from all the makkos. He had enabled them to cross the Yam Suf and defeated Amolek. They received food from shomayim and water from a rock.
Of course Bnei Yisroel would be prepared to accept the Torah without investigating the contents. They knew that He was their Tatter in Himmel. They had seen that whatever Hashem wants them to do is for their good and they are capable of doing it. However this could be guaranteed only if Bnei Yisroel remembered clearly everything Hashem has done for them. Often we are excited and inspired by something but by the time we have ‘slept on it’, our inspiration has weakened.
After leaving Mitzrayim, Bnei Yisroel had to face a succession of new challenges. If they had had time to sleep, the impact of what they had seen, even weeks earlier, might have worn off. A lessening of these monumental impressions might have jeopardised their kabolas HaTorah at Sinai. Hashem gave them extra strength to travel without pause by day and by night, so that they could preserve the clarity of their memory and the freshness of their enthusiasm. When the great day of maamad har Sinai arrived, there would be no doubts.
Hashem who showed His love for us throughout the miracles of yetzias Mitzrayim would surely only give us what was for our good. Bnei Yisroel’s response to the offer of the Torah was clear and positive.
“Yes, of course, Tatty. Whatever You say we will do.”
With Adar fast approaching, it is the ideal time to buy Rabbi Fletcher’s new sefer, Dancing in our Hearts. Available at all sefarim shops. Enjoy.