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Shavuot: Awe vs. Love of God: Part Three

Transcribed by Daniel Goldman from a shiur delivered on 18 May 1999: “…And the nation answered together, and they said: All that God has spoken, ‘Na’aseh,’ we will do.” Gotcha!  Na’aseh V’Nishma is not in response to this!  The people just say, “We will do.  We want this.”  Between this point and Matan Torah God warns the people repeatedly, “Don’t go here, or you will die.”  They need an adequate sense of Awe.


So far we see that God lays out for them the groundwork.  God says, “What I want from you is a relationship.  This relationship is going to consist of two parts.  You will begin with Awe and end with Love.”  This is exactly what God said to Adam in the Garden.   “I want to have a working relationship with you.  Every tree in the Garden you must eat.  However, you will begin with Awe.  From the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil you must not eat.”  But there is also the Tree of Life.  That is the Torah.  Which side of the mountain, by the way, did the Jews camp on?  The East!  Where did the cherub guarding the Garden stand? mi’kedem – from the East.  Sinai is truly a recreation of what was happening in the Garden of Eden.

At the end of Yitro, God reveals himself to the Jews.  They see God’s voice.  The moment they hear His Voice they die.  God brings them back to life, but they die a second time.  He brings them back, and again, they die. “No more, no more,” they cry, “we can’t take it anymore.”  But they must hear it from G-d, and from G-d’s side.  The Jews see the sounds over the mountain.  The sounds don’t get weaker as time goes by, they get stronger.  The people are terrified.  That is Yir’ah, Awe. It is being aware of who God is, and understanding our insignificance.  After that, you can have proper Awe, and you can have a proper relationship with God.

It seems strange because it doesn’t usually work that way.  In contrast to Yitro, the story at the end of Mishpatim is entirely different. “And to Moshe God said, go up to God,” – which is Love, “you, Aaron, Nadav, and Avihu, and the seventy elders of Israel, and you will bow down from far away.  And Moshe approached alone to God.  They didn’t approach, and the nation didn’t come after them.” (Exodus 24)

“And Moshe came and he told over to the people…” Va’yisaper – and he told over.  What does va’yisaper mean? – to tell a story.  Which story?  “…all the words of God, and all the laws.  And the nation answered in one voice, and they said, ‘All the words that God has spoken, Na’aseh – we will do.” What’s missing?  V’nishma – we will hear.  (I must have printed here the wrong Torah!)

“And Moshe wrote down all the words of God.  He woke up early in the morning, he built an altar at the base of the mountain, and twelve monuments for each of the twelve tribes.” What is Moshe saying when he builds these twelve monuments?  He is depicting the two parties in the agreement.

“And he sent the first-born of the children of Israel and they brought burnt offerings…” Burnt offerings are entirely for God.  Is that Yir’ah, Awe, or Ahava, Love?  This is Awe.  “…then they slaughtered bulls and gave them as peace offerings.” Is that Awe or Love?  That’s Love – half for You, half for me.  “Moshe took half of the blood,” and an angel put it into containers, “and the other half he sprinkled on the altar.” Moshe gave a peace offering.  Half for the people, and half for G-d.  Now he takes the blood and divides it in half.  Half goes on the altar, but we don’t know yet what he does with the other half.

“And he took the Book of the Covenant…” which he had written the night before, “…and he read this Book of the Covenant in the ears of the nation.” What is this ‘Book of the Covenant?’  Rashi answers that it is the words of the Torah from Creation until the Giving of the Torah (a story), and the three mitzvot given at Marah.  So what do they have in front of them?  Is it a legal text?  No! It’s a story!  Moshe reads this Book of the Covenant to the people (Exodus 24:7), and they said, “…everything that God has said, we will do, and we will obey!” This is the famous Na’aseh V’nishma.  Are they responding to the laws?  No!  Na’aseh V’nishma is not in response to the laws of the Torah!  It’s to a story!

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