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Beit Midrash Series Parashat Hashavua

The Desire to be Coerced

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"The nation answered with one voice, and they said: "Everything that Hashem spoke we will do" (Shemot 24:3). While this sounds like a very enthusiastic acceptance of the Torah, we seem to have a different version of the episode. On the pasuk, "They positioned themselves under the mountain" (Shemot 19:17), the gemara (Shabbat 88a) expounds: "This teaches us that Hashem held the mountain over them and said that if they accept the Torah, good, and if not, there would be their grave."
Yes. Coercion; literally coercion. We are talking about coercion until the point that they say "yes." "I want to be forced. I want to limit my scope of choice; I knowingly relinquish my rights to independence." The people agreed to put themselves under the discipline of the rules from Above. When the Divine Will expresses itself, there is no room for human will. The person negates himself to the fullest extent, and when the person is negated, there is no room for his will. Everything has to do with the Divine Will. Coercion!
"A person should not say, ‘I do not want to eat pig meat …’ rather, ‘I would like to eat it, but what am I to do, as my Father in the Heaven has decreed upon me to refrain from it’" (Sifra, Kedoshim 10:11). Saying "I do not want it" is revealing one’s own will, whereas the whole meaning of the Torah is to negate the individual’s desire in face of the heavenly desire. There is a high level of service of Hashem in which a person negates his own desires to the point that they are linked to the Divine Will in a manner that not only does he not want things for himself but the Divine Will is his will to the fullest degree. We find this concept being played out in the reacceptance of the Torah with full free will at the time of Achashveirosh, and this is behind the idea of na’aseh v’nishma ("we will do and hear"). The essence of the Torah is indeed forcing one’s own desires to be proper.
The reconcilement of the various sources as to what happened at Sinai is that the coercion began only after the people said na’aseh v’nishma. Before that point, coercion would not have been significant, as it would not have been an expression of service of Hashem.
We can see the direction in which "free desire" can take us in the deterioration of society that is taking place in full force before us. There are desires that know no boundaries, and this is destroying the world. The situation is leading people like sheep to the slaughter, and it is an example of man harnessing his own power for his own destruction. [Ed. Note – I do not know if there was a specific event or societal phenomenon at the time of this address – in the 50’s – that prompted these sharp words, which, it can be argued, often apply.]
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