Every frum child is introduced at a young age to the Midrash that tells of the events that preceded the giving of the Torah. Hashem offered the Torah to several nations of the world and each, after asking what is written in it, declined to accept. When Klal Yisrael was made the same offer, they said in unison “Naaseh v’nishma — we accept.” Their acceptance was unusual in two ways. First, it was done without knowing details of the mitzvos they were committing to observe. Second, it was accepted together, in unison. It constituted the ultimate expression of subjugation of the will, and also of unity.
In the dramatics of the story, we can lose sight of the monumental and defining nature of this event. Our saying “yes” and their saying “no” has determined the history of Klal Yisrael and really of all creation. The entire status of the Jewish people, and of the nations of the world, for that matter, is based on this event. Fifteen million people are descendants of those who said “yes” and approximately seven billion are descendants of those who said “no.” It is a frightening thought and one that reinforces our responsibility, especially because so few of us are currently involved in that acceptance.
The Gemara in Bava Kamma brings this point into the practical dimension when it describes the halachic ramifications that exist between Jews and non-Jews.
The application of these halachos is detailed and technical; however, the explanation underpinning the inequality that does indeed exist is precisely that we said “yes” and they said “no.” Our status as chosen is a privilege we attained through our declaration of saying “yes.” Their status is a direct result of having demeaned the honor of Hashem by refusing the greatest gift that was ever offered to mankind.
The focal point of our saying naaseh v’nishma is not only the acceptance itself, but also that we all said “yes” together. This unity is what gave us our relationship with Hakadosh Baruch Hu as well as the power to become the Jewish People.
Most of us are familiar with the Rashi that says that Klal Yisrael came to Har Sinai “as one man, with one heart.” What is less well known is the second part of the comment on the same passuk: that it was the only time this was achieved.
Mori v’Rabi, Hagaon Harav Yitzchok Feigelstock, shlita, Rosh Yeshivah of Mesivta of Long Beach, would say in the name of his rebbi, Maran Hagaon Harav Aharon Kotler, zt”l, that the reason for the death of all 24,000 talmidim of Rabi Akiva was that their lack of kavod for each other prevented them from fulfilling their potential as the next link in the chain of the mesorah from Har Sinai. This failing could not allow people of such an exalted position to be the ones charged with carrying on the mesorah.
As we count Sefiras HaOmer, we are preparing for Kabbalas HaTorah, an event that requires another declaration of saying “yes” to the Torah. However, the true power of this declaration is when we will be able to say it in unison as a people. How special it would be if we could daven in these days leading up to Shavuos to merit seeing Klal Yisrael saying “yes” in unison. Let us all strive to find ways to be able to join together and bring the whole of Klal Yisrael back to that moment where we said “naaseh v’nishma” together, as we accept the Torah.
Rabbi Zev Cohen is Mara d’Asra of Congregation Adas Yeshurun, Chicago.