Emotional Conversion by Moshe Pahmer


The story of Ma’amad Har Sinai is related in last week's Parashah, and continues this week, with a notable change. When presented with the Torah in last week's narrative, Bnei Yisrael responded "Kol Asher Diber Hashem Na’aseh,” “All that Hashem has spoken, we will do it!” (Shemot 19:8). In this week's narrative, Bnei Yisrael respond, "Kol Asher Diber Hashem Na’aseh VeNishma, “All that Hashem has spoken, we will do and we will listen” (24:7) What is the meaning of our pledge of VeNishma? And furthermore, why do we need the double expression of Na’aseh and Nishma—what's the difference between the two?

Perhaps, Na’aseh means that we will do what you, God, tell us, and Nishma means we are ready to accept anything and everything you will tell us in the future.

Although the Torah mentions the possibility for a non-Jew to convert to Judaism, it does not give directions how this is done. What steps must the Goy take to convert? Chazal (Keritut 9a) explain that conversion is performed the same way that the original mass conversion of Bnei Yisrael was performed. Specifically, the Gemara identifies four steps: Brit Milah (for men), Tevilah in a Mikveh, Korban when the Beit HaMikdash stood, and Kabalat HaMitzvot.

The Gemara (Bechorot 30b) even raises Kabalat Mitzvot to such an extreme, that it states that if a Geir is not willing to keep even a single detail of any Mitzvah DeRabbanan, the conversion is not accepted. This raises some obvious questions; the non-Jew is not expected to learn the Torah in its entirety before converting, so how is he able to commit to, and understand, all that he is accepting? Also, why don't we insist that the Geir first learn all the laws before pledging to keep them?

The biggest question is that all Geirim are aware that they might not be able to keep every Halachah—after all, even many Jews from birth find it challenging to observe all Mitzvot DeOraita, let alone DeRabbanan. Any prospective Geir knows that he might arrive late for shul, or gossip without justification, or fail to recite a Berachah Acharonah. So how can their Geirut count? For that matter, when Bnei Yisrael announced "All that God said we will keep," weren’t they simply lying? We can answer this question by asking another question: if a person wants to convert to Judaism, but wants to make a Reform or Conservative conversion, is he Jewish? Is the conversion of a non-Jewish woman married to a Kohein or a non-Jew counted? Does her Kabalat Mitzvot count for anything? If not, then we can ask why her conversion is any different from a conventional conversion. Our immediate answer would be the conversion is completely different! The possible Geir is not accepting the Mitzvot the same way that we are—they are not committed to the mitzvah in the least bit. They have not expressed willingness to keep the Mitzvah. These converts are different than the normal devoted convert because every convert knows he cannot accept Na’aseh on every single mitzvah, but that is justified because they accept Nishma, the spirit of the mitzvah. The Geir who wants to convert to Reform is not even willing to accept the Nishma, so his conversion is unsuccessful. From here we learn that the Nishma of Parashat Mishpatim is where we really convert, and the Na’aseh of Yitro is really just a prelude. When Bnei Yisrael stood at Har Sinai and only heard 10 commandments, which is only a tiny window into the Halachot of the torah, we should be asking why we became Jewish if we lacked the full Na’aseh. However, since we accepted the Nishma, we successfully became the Jewish nation, God's chosen ones.

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