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Shavuot- The Challenge – and Rewards – of Torah Commitment

Tradition teaches that the souls of all Jews who would ever live until the end of time were present at Mount Sinai when the Torah was given. This concept actually finds halachic expression, in the concept of "Mushba Ve’omed Me’Har Sinai," which means that we are all considered to have vowed at Mount Sinai to observe the Torah. The Rabbis teach that a vow to observe the Torah does not add anything, since we in any event are bound by the oath we took at Sinai to fulfill all of G-d’s commands.

On the other hand, the Gemara in Masechet Nidda tells of an additional vow that we all took, committing ourselves to observe the Torah. The Gemara teaches that before a child is born, the infant is forced to take an oath pledging to be righteous and avoid sin throughout his or her life. A number of Rabbis raised the question of why this oath is necessary, given that the child’s soul had already taken this vow at Mount Sinai. If, indeed, we are all under the category of "Mushba Ve’omed Me’Har Sinai," then why is a second oath necessary before birth?

One answer that has been given is based on a Halacha relevant to employment. An employer is not permitted to change the terms of the agreement with the employee, making his work responsibilities more difficult, without the employee’s consent. For example, if the arrangement described in the contract involves work to be done in a comfortable, air-conditioned building, the employer is not entitled to change his mind and force the employee to work outside in the scorching heat.

When we vowed at Sinai to fulfill the Misvot, we made this vow when we were just souls, without a body. But when an infant is born, the soul is placed into a body. Needless to say, observing the Torah is infinitely more difficult with a physical body. It is because of our bodies that we have needs that distract us from our obligations to G-d, and that we are so easily tempted and lured toward sinful conduct. The oath we made as souls at the time of Matan Torah does not require us to observe the Torah under the far more difficult circumstances of life with a human body. Therefore, just before birth, when the soul enters the infant’s body, a new oath is needed, wherein the child promises to meet the great challenge of fulfilling the Misvot with a physical body.

As we prepare for Shabuot, when we reaffirm our acceptance of the Torah, we should remind ourselves that Torah observance is worth every bit of hard work and sacrifice that it entails. As any conscientious Torah-committed Jew knows, living a spiritual life in our physical world is very challenging, and is fraught with struggles. But we firmly believe that the benefits and rewards of our religious commitment are worth far more than anything that we are required to sacrifice for Torah observance. We accept the Torah fully aware of the difficulty involved – but also fully aware of the great benefits we receive by striving and working to serve our Creator to the best of our ability.

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