God Knows Best

June 24, 2009

5 min read


Mishpatim (Exodus 21-24 )

We have been called the Chosen People since time immemorial. But what exactly happened to grant us this exalted title? The answer lies in a profound understanding of the famous Jewish retort to an anti-Semitic remark.

The anti-Semite said, "How odd of God to choose the Jews!"
Answered the Jew, "Not so odd, the Jews chose God!"

Towards the end of Parshat Mishpatim, the story of the events surrounding the Sinai Revelation is told. The Torah records the famous response of the Jewish People to God's offering of the Torah to them:

"Everything that God says, we will do and we will hear (Na'aseh VeNishma)!" (Shemot 24:7).

This statement is deemed so significant that the Talmud (Shabbat 88a) states that when the Jewish Nation said 'Na'aseh VeNishma,' 600,000 angels descended from heaven to place two crowns, one for Na'aseh and one for Nishma, upon the head of each Jew. God proclaimed, "Who revealed this secret to my children! This is the secret of the heavenly ministering angels!"

Continuing in this vein, the Midrash (Sifri, Zot HaBracha 2) describes God offering the Torah to other nations of the world, and their rejection. Each time God came to one of the nations to propose His Torah to them, they asked, "Well, what's in it?" When God proceeded to mention a few of His commandments, all of the nations gave reasons why they could not accept it, why some of the laws were just too difficult for them to observe. Until God came to the Jews and they said, "We will do and we will hear!"

These Midrashic sources are usually understood as a display of the crowning greatness of the Jewish people's acceptance to do anything that God says, even before they are told what the command might be. This is certainly true. But what is often ignored is the reaction of the nations. We usually think that while the Jewish response is extremely praiseworthy, the reaction of the nations is understandable. After all, is it not logical that before you enter into an agreement, you read the fine print? But this assumption is wrong.

Who is the one doing the offering? It is the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe. He is the One who knows each individual nation's strengths and weaknesses. If God proposes something to you, even something that might seem difficult to keep, such as 613 Commandments in a Torah, He knows that you are capable of accepting it. If you weren't, He wouldn't be offering it to you.

The very fact that the nations asked God, "Well, what's in it?" is a rejection of God. It shows a lack of trust in God and His concern for your welfare.

You don't have to ask God for details if He is making you an offer. You trust that God has your best interests in mind, and you know that saying "yes" to God, without knowing any of the details, is the only compelling course of action.

This is precisely what Rava (Shabbat 88a-b), one of the great Rabbis of the Talmud, said in response to a verbal attack on the Jewish people. "You are an impetuous nation! You spoke before you listened! How could you have accepted the Torah before you heard how hard its laws were?" Rava replied, "We acted as lovers do. We had the trust that God would not give us any commands that we were not capable of carrying out!" (Rashi's explanation.)

This type of trust in God was necessary at the time of the Giving of the Torah at Sinai. But it is also needed today for all of us. There are many times when we feel that we are incapable of fulfilling the Torah's demands. It is just too difficult for us. But if we would realize that God, the One who knows our strengths and weaknesses personally is doing the asking, we would understand that we must have the ability to accomplish what God wants of us. It may take time until we master a particular spiritual area and we should always work on things slowly and gradually, but all along we must trust in God and His demands of us. We can do it, if God is telling us we can.

The same is true regarding life struggles and tests. The key to passing these life challenges intact is the realization that if God has placed me in my predicament, I must be able to pass the test. This is the beginning of the kind of acceptance of a challenge that is necessary in order to survive spiritually. As the famed self-help author, M. Scott Peck, begins his book, "The Road Less Traveled":

"Life is Difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly understand and accept it, then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters."

What Peck writes is true. As believing Jews, though, we have a double advantage. We know that not only will there be difficulties in life and that is the way things are supposed to be, but that it is God that gives us our individual tests and knows that we can succeed in conquering our personal challenges.

We are descendants of the great ones who said to God, "We trust You. We know that whatever You command and whatever challenges You send us are for our good." Let us live this trust in our own daily life struggles.

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