Torah thought forFriday 4 Sivan 5782 June 3 2022

Chag Shavuot

(From the teachings of Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef ztvk”l. written by his grandson HaRav Yaakov Sasson Shlit”a
translated by our dear friend Rav Daniel Levy Shlit”a, Leeds UK)

“Like the fruitful, fragrant apple among the barren trees of the forest”, “…and the fragrance of your countenance like apples” (Shir HaShirim 2:3 and 7:9)

[Explaining the Meaning of Am Yisrael’s Famous Phrase “We will do and then we will listen” (Shemot 24:7)]

In Gemara Shabbat (88a), the chachamim said: Why are Am Yisrael compared to an apple? As it states, “Like the fruitful, fragrant apple among the barren trees of the forest”, and likewise it says, “…and the fragrance of your countenance like apples” (Shir HaShirim 2:3 and 7:9). Tosafot z”l explain that the “apple” mentioned in the pesukim in Shir HaShirim, is in fact the “etrog” as is explained in the Targum (Aramaic translation that Tosafot had) “…and the fragrance of your countenance like apples” means “…and the fragrance of your countenance like etrogs”.

Our chacham explained in what way are Am Yisrael akin to an etrog. Just as the etrog fruits grow prior to the leaves appearing, likewise Am Yisrael prefaced “we will do” to “we will listen”, as the passuk states, “He took the book of the covenant and read it aloud to the people. They replied, ‘We will do and listen to all that Hashem has declared’” (Shemot 24:7).

We need to consider, that since Am Yisrael are compared to the etrog, which grows before its leaves, just as Am Yisrael proceeded with “we will do” before “we will listen”, it thus follows that Am Yisrael’s stating “we will do” is like the fruit of the etrog, whilst “we will listen” is comparable to the etrog’s leaves.

We may ask that since the fruits are analogous to the actual fulfilment of the mitzvot, whilst the leaves are analogous to listening to the Torah, if so, how could it be that Am Yisrael proceeded to accept upon themselves the act of the mitzvot before learning about them? Since the value of Torah-study is far greater than the value of fulfilling the other mitzvot. For “Great is Talmud Torah for it leads to action” [Kiddushin 40b]. Likewise it is said about studying the holy Torah, “It is more precious than pearls, and all your desires cannot compare to it” (Mishlei 3:15). And our chachamim explain (Yalkut Mishlei 934) that “your desires” are the mitzvot, they are the desires of Hashem, and even they are not equal to the value of studying the holy Torah. Likewise Rambam wrote (Hilchot Talmud Torah ch. 3), “there is no mitzvah amongst all the mitzvot that is weighted alongside Torah-study, rather Torah-study is prized as all the mitzvot combined, for study leads to action. Therefore study always comes before action”.

So we must understand how our ancestor’s prefaced the yoke of mitzvah fulfilment, prior to the most fundamental and precious mitzvah, which is the mitzvah of Torah-study?!

We may explain this as follows. When Am Yisrael said, “we will do and we will listen”, their intention wasn’t to preface the actual fulfilment of mitzvot prior to Torah-study, since it is anyway impossible to fulfil the mitzvot before a person has studied the Torah, as it states, “Learn them and safeguard them, so that you will be able to keep them” (Devarim 5:1). Rather, Am Yisrael intended to first study Torah and then fulfil the mitzvot, and only afterwards “we will listen”, meaning we will study to understand what the reasons of the mitzvah are. (Because the meaning of the word “listen” is “understand” as it states, “…that Yosef was listening” (Bereishit 42:23), meaning that Yosef understood his brothers’ words). Understanding the reason for a mitzvah is indeed less important than the actual fulfilment of the mitzvah itself.

This is literally comparable to the etrog. The etrog is akin to the act of the mitzvah, since it grows before its leaves, which are indicative of understanding the reason for the mitzvah. (See Meor Yisrael Derushim, Derush l’Chag HaShavuot.)

May you merit to many pleasant and good years!

Chag Sameach!

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