Bamidbar 5777

Rabbi Avrohom Parmett

ויאמר, ה’ מסיני בא וזרח משעיר למו הופיע מהר פארן … מימינו אש דת למו (דברים לג:ב)

He said, “Hashem came from Sinai having shone towards them from Se’ir, having appeared from Har Paran … from His right hand He presented the fiery Torah to them.” (Devarim 33:2)

On the words “ויאמר ה’ מסיני בא”, the Sifri recounts that prior to presenting the Torah to Klal Yisrael, Hashem approached the other seventy nations and offered it to them.
He first approached Bnei Eisav. They asked in response, מה כתוב בה?, “What is written in it?” Hashem answered by quoting the commandment of לא תרצח (Shemos 20:13), the prohibition against murder. The Bnei Eisav declined, explaining that the essence of their being and that of their forefathers was to be murderous, quoting the Pasuk (Bereishis 27:22) והידים ידי עשו, “The hands are the hands of Eisav,” as well as the Pasuk (Bereishis 27:40) ועל חרבך תחיה, “And by your sword you shall live.”
Hashem proceeded to offer the Torah to Bnei Amon U’Moav, who also asked what it says. Hashem responded with the commandment of לא תנאף (Shemos 20:13), the prohibition against adultery. They too refused, explaining that their entire existence involved all facets of promiscuity, as the Pasuk (Bereishis 19:36) says, ותהרין שתי בנות לוט מאביהן, “The daughters of Lot conceived from their father.”
Hashem then went to the Bnei Yishmael with the same offer. When they too inquired about the Torah’s contents, Hashem replied by quoting the commandment (Shemos 20:13) of לא תגנב, “Do not steal.” Yishmael rejected Hashem’s offer, since the very nature of their father (Yishmael) was thievery, as the Pasuk (Bereishis 16:12) says,והוא יהיה פרא אדם, “And he (Yishmael) will be a wild-donkey of a man.”
The Sifri recounts that Hashem then approached the other nations, all of whom refused, and Hashem became angry at them. Finally, He approached Klal Yisrael at Har Sinai and offered them the Torah. They answered נעשה ונשמע, accepting the Torah unconditionally, regardless of what it may say.
At first glance, it is difficult to understand why Hashem was disappointed with the nations’ refusals to accept the Torah. It seems that they were correct in declining; after all, they attributed their reservations to various Pesukim which revealed how their ancestors possessed inborn traits which were contrary to the Torah’s commandments. Moreover, the fact that the nations were honest with themselves and recognized their limitations should be praiseworthy. They felt that it would be irresponsible to commit to laws which they felt were beyond their capabilities. The Jewish People, on the other hand, were not previously condemned like the other nations, so it should be much easier for them to enthusiastically embrace the Torah.
However, there is a deeper reason behind Hashem’s anger towards the nations. Upon realizing that they were handicapped regarding specific commandments due to an inherent flaw in one of their Middos, each nation rejected the Torah without hesitation. They concluded that the flaw would be too much of an obstacle in their observance, refusing to even consider exerting a minimal amount of effort to overcome it.
In contrast, Klal Yisrael possessed a Middah which should have actually made it extremely difficult for them to accept the Torah – stubbornness. In the aftermath of the Chet HaEigel, Hashem describes the Jewish nation asעם קשה עורף, “A stiff-necked nation” (Shemos 32:9). It was very clear that Klal Yisrael possessed an inherent Middah of stubbornness.
In its negative form, stubbornness possesses a unique quality not found in other negative character traits. It encompasses and affects every aspect of a person’s other Middos. Whereas a person who has a tendency to steal will struggle in that one specific area, one who is stubborn will become entrenched in his entire lifestyle, to the extent that he will become unreceptive to rebuke. He will cling to his ways unconditionally, even if he comes to realize that perhaps his ways are flawed. This goes hand-in-hand with haughtiness and will prevent him from ever rising above his shortcomings.
The Sforno (Devarim 9:6) explains that when Hashem referred to Klal Yisrael as קשה עורף, He was in fact saying, “By being stiff-necked, it becomes impossible to be righteous and straight of heart … a person stays stiff-necked, going after the ambitions of his heart…even though he has been made aware…with clear proofs that his thoughts will lead him to loss…he won’t heed…as if his neck was (literally) stiff, like a steel tendon that is unable to turn to either direction.” He further explains (Shemos 32:9) that it will become hopeless for such a person to ever repent.
In a similar vein, R’ Chaim Friedlander (Sifsei Chaim, Vaad 23) quotes Rav Dessler, who explains that stubbornness is the opposite of giving one’s self entirely to Hashem. Since he is subservient to his owns wants, it is hopeless that he will ever do Teshuva.
According to this logic, it is apparent that Klal Yisrael indeed faced a far greater challenge to accepting the Torah than the other nations. Each nation gave up after hearing just a single Mitzvah which was contrary to its nature. In comparison, the Jewish People accepted the yolk of Torah immediately, without asking or having any idea of what they were taking upon themselves. They accepted the Torah even though they possessed the one Middah that makes it nearly impossible to humble one’s self and accept subservience to authority, especially in an unconditional manner.
It is now clear why Hashem was angry at the other nations for not accepting the Torah. Hashem presented each of them with a challenge in just one difficult area. When they refused to even rise up to that, He became furious at them.
A tremendous lesson can be learned from Klal Yisrael’s approach in accepting the yolk of Torah. Chazal frequently note that any Middah can be put to both a positive, constructive use, and a negative, damaging one. As previously explained, stubbornness can be an especially destructive characteristic which undermines a person’s overall behavior. This occurs when it is manifested in a negative way. When used for a positive purpose, it can give one strength to endure in the most challenging spiritual situations, assisting a person in clinging to Yiddishkeit under the harshest of conditions. There have been countless examples of this phenomenon throughout Jewish history. And as explained above, קשיותהעורף is among the most difficult Middos to channel in a positive way, since by its very nature it prevents one from changing.
Through Matan Torah, Klal Yisrael not only neutralized their natural inclination to resist, but they steered it towards the positive. They did so full spectrum, until they ultimately reached the level of accepting the Torah “stubbornly,” even resisting asking about its ramifications. That the entire Torah was accepted in this light provides a critical lesson in the necessary approach towards Torah observance.
This analysis reveals a direct correlation between Shavuos and Megillas Rus. The Megilla particularly focuses on the episode where Na’ami tries to dissuade Rus from staying with her, arguing that it was in her own best interest to return to her people. Rus, however, remained obstinate and insisted on accompanying Na’ami, until Na’ami finally acquiesced.
One thing becomes apparent from this incident: Rus clearly possessed the Middah of stubbornness. Once she decided that it was best for her to follow Na’ami, she would not back down, regardless of how hard Na’ami tried to convince her otherwise.
Since Rus was likely a stubborn person by nature, her self-sacrifice in doing what was right by staying at Na’ami‘s side was unique in its greatness. For anyone in such a predicament to act as Rus did would certainly be commendable. But for a person like Rus, who was inherently a קשה עורף, such self-sacrifice and humility in the face of adversity is far more exceptional. Who can describe how inclined Rus must have naturally felt to find a more comfortable life back in Moav? And although she knew in her mind that the correct action would be to follow Na’ami, certainly her stubbornness must have made it nearly impossible for her to “turn her neck” towards those feelings, as if it were made of steel.
Yet Rus not only overcame these stubborn, resistant feelings, she took control of her nature and utilized it to remain firm in staying with Na’ami, until Na’ami finally acceded. This is strikingly similar to Klal Yisrael’s approach to Matan Torah: not only did they overcome their stubbornness and inclination to resist, but they also worked on themselves and used that very stubbornness to ultimately declare נעשה ונשמע.