April 21, 2024
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Earlier Generations Obligating Later Generations

The Sages of Aragon’s Question

Later generations obligate earlier ones. How can that be? Nonetheless, Devarim 29:14 records Moshe Rabbeinu—including those present and those not present in the brit—he renewed between Hashem and Bnei Yisrael near the end of his life. Rashi—citing the Midrash Tanchuma—explains that “those not present” refers to future generations.

Abarbanel cites the chachamim of Aragon (a region in Spain), who questioned why earlier generations generate an obligation for future generations. We begin by noting three classic solutions to this fundamental question.

 

Abarbanel’s Answer

Abarbanel responds that just as one passes his assets to his inheritors, so does he transmit his obligations to the next generation. In addition, as Eretz Yisrael is a collective “possession” of Am Yisrael, so is Torah and our brit with Hashem. It is jointly “owned” by all Jews past, present and future. Thus, the brit is entered equally between earlier and later generations.

 

Rabbeinu Bachayei’s Answer

Rabbeinu Bechayei compares earlier generations to the seeds of a tree and subsequent ones to the tree’s branches. The roots and the branches are the same. Therefore, the earlier and later generations are identical; thus, the former entering the brit obligates the latter.

 

Malbim

Malbim invokes the Talmudic principle of “Zachin l’adam shelo b’fanav.” While one cannot confer a chov (obligation) to others without their consent, we can grant someone a zechut, a benefit, without the latter’s agreement. The Torah is the best possible lifestyle for every human being. The Torah is the creator of the universe’s guide to the best possible way to live. Earlier generations accepting the brit confers the greatest gift in the universe, a magnificent lifestyle leading to an eternal special relationship with the world’s creator.

 

A New Answer Based on Shemot 20:2—Our Enhanced Relationship With Hashem

We offer a new answer based on Rashi’s approach to Shemot 20:2. Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi (in his Sefer Kuzari and see Ibn Ezra to this pasuk) famously asks why Hashem introduces Himself at Sinai as the One who took us from Mitzrayim, instead of the One Who created the world. Rashi resolves the issue by saying that Hashem releasing us from Mitzrayim is sufficient to obligate us in mitzvot.

Rashi explains why Jews are obligated to more mitzvot than others. Hashem has invested more in us; therefore, we must reciprocate and invest more in Him. Creation alone is an insufficient reason to obligate us in 613 mitzvot. Creation generates the universal obligation to obey the seven Noachide mitzvot. Moreover, our pre-Sinai consent to follow the Torah is not the primary reason to observe the Torah.

Rather, Hashem’s enhanced investment in us at Yetziat Mitzrayim and His ongoing enhanced relationship with us drive our lasting relationship with Him: “Ani l’dodi v’dodi li—I am for my Beloved, and my Beloved is for me,” (Shir Hashirim 6:3). We match His investment in us with our investment in Him.

In this manner, Rashi resolves why succeeding generations are obligated to mitzvot because our ancestors accepted the yoke of mitzvot. Based on Rashi, we answer that our ancestors’ agreement is not the driving force behind our obligations. Rather, it is the ongoing intense relationship between Hashem and Am Yisrael. For example, the miraculous survival and thriving of Medinat Yisrael and the Torah world’s reconstitution (after near extinction in the post-World War II period) are but two manifestations of our eternal and special connection that generates our eternal and unending obligation in mitzvot. No wonder immediately before we accept the yoke of mitzvot in Kriat Shema, we mention the ahavat olam, Hashem’s never-ending love for us.

 

Conclusion—Our Repeated Daily Acceptance of the Brit

The answers to the Chachmei Aragon’s question are not mutually exclusive. On the contrary, each contributes power that drives our eternal covenant with the Master of the Universe.

One final thought: Each generation accepts the Torah—not only on Shavuot, when we reenact Matan Torah—but every day, during tefillah. At the end of each tefillah, we recite Aleinu, expressing our gratitude for the extraordinary privilege of being Jewish. Each morning—early in Shacharit—we say, “ashreinu ma tov chelkeinu, how fortunate we are to accept Malchut Shamayim,” in Kriat Shema, each morning and evening. After Kriat Shema, we describe the Torah daily as, “nechmad venaim, beautiful and pleasant.”

Besides reinforcing this central message in tefillah, we must quietly reflect on how fortunate we are to be among the few people who enjoy a special relationship with Hashem and live a life permeated with meaning, respect and love. Therefore, may we all embrace and successfully convey this message to succeeding generations.


Rabbi Jachter serves as the rav of Congregation Shaarei Orah, rebbe at Torah Academy of Bergen County, and a get administrator with the Beth Din of Elizabeth. Rabbi Jachter’s 16 books may be purchased at Amazon and Judaica House.

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