In this week’s parsha the Am Yisroel said “Naaseh v’nishma,” so it seems like they accepted the Torah willingly. So how do we understand the medrash that says Hashem held Har Sinai over the Jews like a barrel and threatened to drop it on them if they wouldn’t accept the Torah?
There’s a gemara that tells us that Hashem said He would destroy the Am Yisroel if they wouldn’t accept the Torah. Now, we have to understand that not everything that’s written in the Agadata should be taken exactly literally.
In a general sense the idea was that this is your one opportunity in history. If you take it then you’re going to survive. And if you won’t take it then what happens to Bavel and to Persia will happen to you too. You’ll go under just like all the nations of the world eventually go under. That’s what it meant in a general way. If you want to exist forever then you’d better accept the Torah.
And specifically it means this – that Hakodosh Boruch Hu at that time engendered in them such a fear, that they went beyond what they would have done on their own. I explained this idea many times already. It’s like a convert; let’s say he’s willing to be converted and he did everything, but now he came to the bris milah and he’s lying on the bed and here’s a man with a scalpel, a very sharp knife, who’s approaching him. And he gets cold feet and he’d like to run away.
You know, when they circumcise Russian boys – you know there are Jewish boys who come from Russia; they’re big boys already, eighteen-year-old boys and they’re not circumcised. So when they send the mohel down to do the bris milah, along with him they send six strong solid Lubavitchers. And their job is to hold him down!
So it could be he might get cold feet and he’ll start to back out of it but they won’t let him move; it’s because his good intentions that he had before are now being rewarded. He’s shouting, “Let me go!” and they say, “No! In reward for your good intentions, you’ll go through with it!” They’re holding him down! And afterwards, he’s happy he did it.
Our forefathers at first wanted to accept the Torah – they said “Naaseh v’nishma” – but when they started seeing what the Torah meant, the fear of the Torah, the responsibilities of the Torah, so they began to think that maybe it’s too much already. So Hashem put extra fear on them and they were forced to go through with it. And that fear was a gift min haShomayim as a reward for their initial intention to accept everything. That’s what that gemara means.
TAPE # 268 (June 1979)