Shabbos Parashas Mishpatim

The last section of this week’s parashah recounts events associated with the Giving of the Torah. The Jewish People declare (Shemos 24:7): “All that Hashem has spoken we shall do and we shall listen.” In Ruth Rabbah Pesichasa 1, the Midrash expounds:
“Hear, O My People, and I shall speak” (Tehillim 50:7). How did you merit to be called “My People”? From “I shall speak” – because you spoke before Me at Sinai and said: “All that Hashem has spoken we shall do and we shall listen.”
This Midrash seems to take the verse from Tehillim far beyond its plain meaning, which is simply a call from God to the Jewish People to listen to what He is going to say to them. Also, the Midrash seems to make quite a stretch in reading the phrase “I shall speak” as “because you spoke.” But the Maggid, in his commentary on Megillas Rus, shows that the Midrash fits perfectly with the plain meaning of the verse.
The Gemara in Shabbos 88a relates that when the Jewish People said “we shall do and we shall listen,” a Heavenly voice cried out:
Who revealed this secret to My children? This is the expression that the ministering angels use! As it is written (Tehillim 103:20): “Bless Hashem, O His angels – the mighty ones who do His bidding and listen to the voice of His word.” First they mention doing, and afterwards listening.
The Maggid explains this teaching as follows. The Torah is divided into two parts: revealed Torah and hidden Torah. The revealed Torah is freely available to all. Anyone who wishes can take a full helping of it and understand what he has learned. The hidden Torah, however, can be grasped only by a select few: those who, through their exemplary deeds, serve God out of deep love. Only when a person reaches this exalted level does God open his eyes and allow him to behold the wonders of His Torah. As it is written (ibid. 25:14): “Hashem’s secrets are for those who fear Him.”
Now Moshe came before the Jewish People only to present the side of Torah and mitzvos that is revealed to all. Just before the Giving of the Torah at Sinai, Moses brought the Jewish People the following message from God (Shemos 19:5): “Now, if you hearken well to My voice and uphold My covenant, then you shall be unto Me a special treasure among all the nations, for the whole Earth is Mine.” This declaration indicates that what was put before the people was only the revealed part of the Torah that is readily understood when heard. Nonetheless, the people discerned that there was another, hidden side to Torah that contained even greater wisdom. Moreover, the people realized that one who observes the revealed Torah properly eventually gains access to the hidden Torah, just as one who tends a tree properly eventually enjoys its fruit. This is what they meant when they said: “We shall do and we shall listen.” They declared that they would faithfully keep the revealed Torah, and thereby proceed – having attained the necessary capacity – to hear and digest the secrets of the hidden Torah.
We can now easily understand the Heavenly cry: “Who revealed this secret to My children?” Underlying this cry is the question: “How did the Jewish People know that there is another, hidden part to the Torah, beyond the revealed part that I am putting before them now? How did they know to commit themselves to listen to another message that I will convey later?”
With this, we can explain the Midrash that we quoted at the outset. There remains just one more point to bring out. If a person habitually makes all his purchases at a certain store, he will naturally refer to the manager of this store as “my storekeeper.” Similarly, if a person always uses a certain tailor or handyman, he will speak of “my tailor” or “my handyman.” Now, a person who uses a certain tailor once will not automatically refer to this tailor as “my tailor.” However, if the tailor makes an arrangement with him after the first time to do all his tailoring work from then on, then he can refer to the tailor as “my tailor” even after just one job.
The same idea applies to the relationship between God and the Jewish People. The fact that we accepted God’s word on one occasion would not in itself give us the right to have God call us “My People.” We gained this title only because we pledged on that occasion to listen to God regularly from that point on, whenever God would speak to us through His faithful prophets and men of wisdom. When we declared at Sinai “We shall do and we shall listen,” we made a covenant for the future that binds us to heed God’s word at all times.
This is the message behind the verse from Tehillim: “Hear, O My People, and I shall speak.” God is telling us why we are obligated to listen to Him when He speaks. God says to us: “How did you gain the right to be called ‘My People’? Not because you listened to Me on one occasion. Rather, because on that occasion you spoke before Me and said: ‘We shall do and we shall listen.’ With these words, you promised that whenever ‘I shall speak,’ you will listen. And so you are duty-bound to listen to what I shall speak to you now.”
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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