Elli Schwarcz -The Torah Journey: From Tough to Sweet

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Before B’nei Israel were to receive the Torah at Sinai, Moshe Rabbeinu first conveyed Hashem’s expectations of His Chosen Nation. This message, which Hashem had Moshe quote verbatim (see Rashi), included words of encouragement:

And now, if you will surely listen to My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own treasure from among all peoples; for all the earth is Mine.

-Yitro, 19:5

What is the meaning, though, of “And now” at the beginning of this sentence? Surely this is more than just a form of dramatic speech!

Our Rabbis explain that this phrase was meant to emphasize a point about the ‘now’ of B’nei Israel’s acceptance of the Torah:
 

‘And now’: ‘accept it upon yourselves, for all beginnings are difficult.
-Midrash Mechilta

-It seems that despite B’nei Israel’s enthusiasm to receive the Torah, there was still potential for hesitation; perhaps they would find it difficult to keep the many detailed laws that would be thrust upon them all at once. As such, the nation needed to be encouraged in advance, as if to say: ‘It may be difficult at first, but that will pass.’

So these words served as vital encouragement, a message to be stored in the people’s hearts. Actually, more than encouragement to be used in the future, with these words B’nei Israel were also taught how to confront the challenge.
“Accept it upon yourselves” means that they could not be wishy-washy in their commitment to following God’s will. Only an initial dedication to do everything correctly would allow them to deal with the upcoming challenges that a new lifestyle would bring.

The Midrash also expounds on the next part of the verse, highlighting the ‘double language’ of ‘if you will surely listen’:

‘From here they learned that if one listens to one commandment, they teach him many commandments.’

–Midrash (ibid.)

As Rabbi Aharon Kotler, the visionary founding Rosh Yeshiva of Lakewood, explains, a person who begins to study Torah or to be careful about one mitzvah can be discouraged. He or she might lose hope when that experience is challenging; if even one piece of Torah or a single mitzvah is so difficult, how much more so must the entire Torah and all the mitzvot must be to study and to follow! Such thoughts could easily deflate one’s enthusiasm.  Says Rav Sharon: Hashem was addressing these feelings of despair as well, because this was His message: the more that you will ‘accept it upon yourselves’, the easier it will become for you!


In other words, the difficulty remains only when one doesn’t fully accept the Torah- then everything looks impossible, because there is so much more out there that has yet to be accepted and put into action. The way- perhaps counterintuitively- to avoid this daunting perspective is to fully commit to the Torah.
[Now, that’s not to say that a person should ‘jump’ and ‘skip steps’, taking on many new mitzvot at once- that is a tragic mistake that one should never make; it is sinful to jeopardize one’s spirituality by taking on too much at once. But what is required here is full commitment– a mindset that I will do whatever Hashem wants of me. Right now, that may mean taking a few small steps, and next week or next month it may mean something else. Whatever the details, we need to realize that this is the only expectation ever made of us- that we commit ourselves to doing Hashem’s will.]
What’s more, the Torah becomes easier and easier to keep; ‘if one listens to one commandment, they teach him many commandments’. This is not just a naturalconsequence of a person’s dedication to his (spiritual) goal, a direct result of this ‘mindset’ we’ve been speaking about. More, this is a promise of Divine Assistance. Hashem rewards a person’s dedication to Him by helping him understand and comply with His laws; as Rabbi Kotler points out, ‘they teach him many commandments’ means that such a person is not just more able to reach out for the next step, but that Hashem actively gives him that next level of achievement.
The Midrash concludes (Rashi quotes this portion here):
‘It will become sweet for you.’
 

-Not only will someone be given help on his spiritual journey, but he will grow to enjoy it. The Torah becomes sweet to us as we attach ourselves to Hashem, and it becomes more enjoyable as we allow it to- as we disconnect from mundane concerns and from bad character traits that all stand in the way of a true connection to God and a commitment to His laws.
Let us dedicate ourselves to doing what’s right, and allow ourselves the opportunity to grow and to enjoy the journey- and may Hashem accept the prayer we say every morning, within the Torah blessings:

‘And make sweet for us, please… the words of Your Torah…’

Have a great Shabbat!
Elli Schwarcz
Elli Schwarcz is an alumnus of the Toras Moshe, Ner Israel, and Carteret Yeshivos, and has been involved in Jewish outreach for almost 15 years. He is a Hebrew School and English Language Arts teacher, and has a Master’s Degree in Counseling from Johns Hopkins University. Of all his pursuits, Elli most enjoys teaching high-level Jewish thought and Talmud to teenage boys, exposing them to the beauty and wisdom of their heritage while highlighting their own ability to engage in advanced Torah learning. Elli lives in Lakewood, New Jersey, with his wife and children.

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