This Shabbat, we will bless Rosh Chodesh Sivan and prepare for Chag Hashavuot, the Chag of Matan Torah. The Gemara in Masechet Shabbat (88a) comments on the Pasuk ויתיצבו בתחתית ההר, “And they [Bnai Yisrael] stood below the mountain” (Shemot 19:17), that כפה עליהם הקב"ה הר כגיגית ואמר להם אם אתם מקבלים התורה מוטב, ואם לאו שם תהא קבורתכם, “Hashem placed the mountain over the Jewish People and said, ‘If you accept the Torah, fine; but if you do not, then under this mountain shall be your grave.’” In other words, the Jews were forced by Hashem to accept the Torah. They had no other choice – except death. Tosafot there, though, points out that the Jewish People accepted the Torah willingly as well when they said נעשה ונשמע, “We shall do, and we shall listen [to all of Hashem’s commands].”
Thus, Bnai Yisrael accepted the Torah willingly but also had to accept it unwillingly under Heavenly duress. Why this double form of קבלת התורה?
It seems that we should have two attitudes towards our duties as Jews who keep Torah and Mitzvot. Firstly, we should want to keep the Torah’s commands willingly. The Torah is our source of spiritual life and national existence. We all want to live – כי הם חיינו וארך ימינו, “For they [Torah and Mitzvot] are our lives and the length of our days.” However, we must also keep the Torah’s commands because we have no other choice but to do what the Ribono Shel Olam demands. He gives us life and can take it away, God forbid. We should be very afraid of His judgment, of his Midat Hadin. We have no other choice but to keep the Torah. Otherwise, we could suffer grievously.
These two attitudes must permeate our lives all the time. We love Hashem and are very willing to follow the wonderful, wise words of the Torah and do Mitzvot, which are only good for us. We also fear the Ribono Shel Olam, Who sometimes punishes us as individuals or as a nation when we step too far out of line. There is justice in the world! We defy the Heavenly Judge at our own peril!
This Chag Hashavuot should be a time to rededicate ourselves to the dual principles of אהבת ה' and יראת ה', to want to do what the Torah commands and be fearfully aware of the dire price to be paid if we do not do them, God forbid.
I am confident that all of our Talmidim will rededicate themselves this year to אהבת ה' and יראת ה' on Chag Hashavuot.