We Shall Do and We Shall Listen

the-adoration-of-the-golden-calfMoshe comes and declares to the people all the words of Hashem, and all the mishpatim[1], and all the people replied in one voice, and said, “All the words Hashem has spoken we do.” And Moshe writes all the words of Hashem, and he rises early in the morning, and builds an altar under the mountain, and twelve memorial columns for the twelve tribes of Israel; and he sends the young men of the sons of Israel, and they offered up burnt offerings, and sacrificed parim[2] as shelamim[3] sacrifices to Hashem. And Moses takes half of the blood, and puts it in basins, and half of the blood he sprinkled on the altar; and he takes the Book of the Covenant, and speaks in the ears of the people, and they say, “All that Hashem has spoken we do, and obey.” And Moses takes the blood, and sprinkles on the people, and says, “Hinei[4], the blood of the covenant that Hashem has made with you, concerning all these words.’[5]

R’Yaakov Leiner of Radzyn noted a novelty in the text. First the text says, “All the words Hashem has spoken we do,” in the third passuk, yet in the seventh it states, “All that Hashem has spoken we do, and obey.” Why are there two differing reactions to the commandments of G-d?

In order to understand the reactions, we must understand the causes for the reactions.

VERSES

CAUSAM EFFECTUS

24:3

…Moshe comes and declares to the people all the words of Hashem and all the mishpatim…

…all the people replied in one voice, and said, “All the words Hashem has spoken we do [Naaseh]…”

24:7 …[Moshe] takes the Book of the Covenant, and speaks in the ears of the people…

…and they say, “All that Hashem has spoken we do, and we listen [naaseh venishmah]…”

In verse three, Moshe speaks to the people, and this engenders the response, “Naaseh[6].” According to R’Leiner, “Verbal communication is associated with unmediated experience, which provokes the reflexive response of na’aseh[7].” Since we were unable to tolerate the spiritual experience invoked by the voice of G-d at the foot of Har Sinai[8], we needed another method of communication. G-d, then, brought Moshe to the top of the mountain and presented him the Luchot[9] and this became the foundation of our written Tradition [the Torah]. Our response to the reading of the Book of the Covenant, then, is naaseh venishmah[10]. This indicates our obedience hinges upon a proper understanding and reflection. The experience at the mountain, that soul-changing, terrifying event was now replaced by the written Word. Our relationship with this written word, while it records the Revelation of Sinai, actually accents the contraction of our spiritual potential.

Under a system that permits the Bat Kol[11] to be heard by the people, our spiritual potential would be without limit[12]. However, our desire for the mundane – our need to feed the yetzer hara[13], if you will – could not permit such a system. Therefore, pure revelation from the Heavens was substituted for the Written text.

Apparently, even that was too much for us. As Moshe received the Written Torah on the Luchot from Hashem on Har Sinai, we descended into the depths of the Cheit HaEgel[14]. We asked Aaron for a representation of Hashem and we received it. We lit fires, sacrificed before it, and began to play[15]. On his way down from the mountain, he saw us frolicking at the foot of a golden calf and he threw the Luchot to the ground and smashed them[16]. [As a side note, it is interesting that we chose the image of an egel – a calf – but that should be saved for another day.]

When Moshe came down the mountain and saw we were worshipping a golden idol created by our own hands, I envision Moshe saying, “If these people are willing to degrade themselves in front of something they made and proclaim, ‘You, o idol, you brought us up out of Egypt,’ how much more will they worship something that descended from Heaven – mainly these Luchot!” Therefore, he threw the tablets to the ground, eliminating the possibility they be turned into an idol. Much truth can be levied toward this idea, especially when we keep in mind that the bronze serpent on the staff[17] [which was used to cure those bitten by the nahashim haseraphim[18]][19] was finally destroyed after being worshipped for generations[20].

[1] Judgments
[2] Calves
[3] Peace offerings
[4] Behold
[5] Exodus 24:3-8
[6] We will do
[7] Beit Ya’akov, Mishpatim 4
[8] Mount Sinai; Sinai, originally called Horev, was renamed because of the event surrounding the Sneh, the [burning] bush [c.f. Exodus 3:2-4]
[9] The tablets of stone formed and written by the finger of G-d
[10] We will do and we will hear
[11] Voice from Heaven
[12] b.Eruvin 54a
[13] The evil inclination
[14] The sin of the Golden Calf
[15] The Biblical text leads one to see orgy-based activities being performed
[16] Using an incorrect kal vachomer, the gemara in b.Shabbos 87a indicates that G-d agreed with Moshe’s actions when he smashed the original set of Luchot. If apostates and non-Jews cannot eat of the Korban Pesach [Passover lamb], then how much more were we undeserving of Torah because we were sinning at the base of Har Sinai when Torah was first presented. It’s an invalid kal vachomer because one could argue that this proves how much we need the Torah to bring us to repentance. See https://sladehenson.wordpress.com/2013/09/14/the-middot-of-hillel-hillels-hermeneutical-rules-part-1/ for more information on the kal vachomer.
[17] It was called called Nechushtan in 2 Kings 18:4
[18] Transliterated here from the Hebrew, this often translated as either fiery serpents or poisonous serpents. The JPS Hebrew-English Tanakh ©2000 states, “exact meaning of Heb. seraph uncertain.”
[19] Numbers 21:4-9
[20] 2 Kings 18:4
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