15 Sivan 5760
From the Desk of: Rabbi Eliezer Langer
It doesn’t seem fair.
The very famous Medrash tells us that the opportunity for Kabbalat HaTorah was not just for the Jewish people. As the Pasuk in Devarim 33:2 tells us, Hashem came to Har Sinai only after having first appeared at Seir and Paran, the dwelling places of the decendants of Esav and Yishmael. There He first offered the Torah to them. Before being willing to accept, they asked, what does this Torah of Yours contain?
Amazingly, Hashem chooses an example for each nation that was the exact opposite of their nature and heredity. To Yishmael’s children He said Lo Tignof, when their progenitor was told that he will live from stealing and pillaging. To bnai Esav Hashem responded, My Torah says Lo tirtzach knowing full well that their ancestor’s blessing was to live by the sword. And to Amon and Moav, whose whole existence resulted from incest, He said Lo tinaf. In fact the Midrash says that Hashem knocked on the door of every nation before He came to Bnai Yisrael.
While it is true that we responded properly, and the others rejected Hashem’s treasure, why did He select the specific law which would have been most difficult for that nation to observe? Would we have responded with the resounding Naase Venishma if we were faced with the challenge of our most difficult task? And what in fact is that area that presents the greatest difficulty for us?
Rav Goldvicht o”h gave the following answer. The truth is that at Har Sinai we in fact did overcome our greatest yetzer hara and we did meet the challenge that remains until this day our greatest stumbling block…
In preparation for Kabbalat haTorah we are told (Shemot 19) …they came to Midbar Sinai, they journeyed from Refidim and they arrived at the wilderness of Sinai and they camped in the desert – each time the Torah uses the plural form of the verb “they did x”. However at Har Sinai it says Vayichan – and he camped (in the singular form). Rashi quotes the Mechilta which comments they camped “k’ish echad, b”lev echad.” They were at this moment like one person with one heart.
What in fact seems to always be our greatest challenge and, unfortunately, our greatest stumbling block – the one ideal which has been for us the most difficult to achieve? It is to act and to be as one. Our predilection has been to quarrel among ourselves, to disagree with our each other and from that to never achieve what what could as one. Our inability to act upon the belief of elu v’elu divrei Elokim Chaim causes machloket, disrespect, and ultimately the sinat chinam that has been the bane of our existence.
However at the time of Kabbalat haTorah we passed the test – we showed that we were able to overcome our greatest challange. We were able at that moment to be “k’ish echad, b”lev echad,” to change our character and to overcome our desires and in that zechut we were able to receive Hashem’s treasure and become His people.
Interestingly enough, there is another mention in Chumash of ish echad and lev echad. When the Egyptians were pursuing Bnai Yisrael at yetziat Mitzraim the pasuk says (Shemot 14:10) behold Egypt is chasing after them. Since here the Torah also changed to the singular form of the verb (nosea) Rashi again quotes the Mechilta which explains “b’lev echad k’ish echad.” At first glance, it appears to be the same comment as was made about Bnai Yisrael at Kabbalat HaTorah – they were as one. Rabbi Simcha Wasserman ztz”l points out a major difference between the two explainations of the Mechilta. In regard to Bnai Yisrael it says, “k’ish echad, b’lev echad” while in regard to the Egyptians it says, “b’lev echad k’ish echad.”
He explained as follows. When Reuven and Shimon are partners in business, why does Reuven want Shimon to be successful and make a handsome profit? It usually is so that Reuven himself will reap the benefits of the joint success. Reuven really isn’t interested in whether Shimon is well off. Reuven is primarily interested in himself. Since his own desire for himself is dependent on Shimon’s success, he wants Shimon to do well. This is the unity of the Egyptians. Since they had lev echad, similar desires for themselves, they acted at this time as a unit, k’ish echad. Bnai Yisrael, however came to another madrega. We were like the partner who so much cares for, and desires the success of the other, for the sake of the other that he acts on his behalf and in this way they are one – “k’ish echad, b’lev echad.” They were like one person, each so concerned about his fellow, that they therefore acted as one.
Our relationship to others should be modeled after that of Bnai Yisrael at the time of Kabbalat HaTorah. Our concern for the next person should be because we want the best for them. Our desire to share the beauty of our learning and experience in Eretz Yisrael must be because of a true inner feeling and respect for the other’s right to their derech to Torah and Hashem.