הקדימו נעשה לנשמע
R’ Elazar said: at the time Israel preceded “we will do” to “we will hear,” a Heavenly voice emanated and said to them:”Who revealed to My children this secret which the ministering angels use?” For it is written that this is the way of the ministering angels: “Bless Hashem, O His angels; the strong warriors who do His bidding, to hear the voice of His word.” First it is written: “who do,” and then it is written: “to hear.”
Receiving the Torah at Har Sinai was greater than all the miracles of the Exodus, and even greater than the splitting of the sea, at which Bnei Yisrael merited a level of prophecy greater than any of the prophets ever experienced—they saw G-d clearly, and pointed זה א-לי, this is my G-d. Yet the receiving of the Torah far surpassed any of these experiences, for Bnei Yisrael attained the level of Ministering Angels, as it says "ברכו את ה' מלאכיו גבורי כח עושי דברו", Bless Hashem, O His angels; the strong warriors who do His bidding, to hear the voice of His word.
Furthermore, our Sages tell us that when they stood at Har Sinai, the impurity which the primal serpent cast upon Chava, which she then passed on to future generations, was removed, and they were returned to their original, uncontaminated state. At that moment Bnei Yisrael completely negated themselves before G-d, and dedicated their essence to Him, proclaiming with pride and might נעשה ונשמע, we will do and we will hear. Because of this they each merited two crowns, as the Gemara states, Said R’ Simai: At the time Israel preceded we will do to we will hear, sixty myriads of ministering angels came down to each and every Jew. They tied crowns on each Jew, one corresponding to we will do, and one corresponding to we will hear.
What is the connection between meriting royal crowns and saying נעשה before נשמע?
It seems that the significance of prefacing נעשה to נשמע is that by doing so Bnei Yisrael demonstrated that they accepted upon themselves the yoke of G-d’s sovereignty with joy and love. This is indeed a high level of serving G-d, for ordinarily the nature of man is such that he does not accept any obligation upon himself unless he knows what he is getting himself into, what that obligation entails. Here, Bnei Yisrael did not wish to be free; their sole desire was to be servants to G-d and accept the yoke of his kingship upon themselves as slaves of G-d, and therefore they prefaced נעשה to נשמע.
The Tosafos there asks the following: on the one hand, our Sages speak about how remarkable it was that Bnei Yisrael said נעשה ונשמע at Har Sinai. On the other hand, our Sages tell us that כפה עליהם הר כגיגית, G-d uprooted Har Sinai and placed it over them so that they would accept His kingship completely. These two statements seem contradictory. The Tosafos answers that initially Bnei Yisrael said נעשה ונשמע, but G-d was afraid lest Bnei Yisrael become frightened upon seeing the great fire and hearing the sound of the shofar, and might change their minds. Therefore, he placed the mountain over them so that they don’t retract their acceptance.
We can offer another explanation. What really is so great about Bnei Yisrael uttering נעשה before נשמע? Considering that that generation had witnessed G-dly miracles like no other generation had, it isn’t all that surprising that they were willing to accept the Torah without knowing all that it included. The people of that generation were termed דור דעה, the generation of knowledge. They had witnessed G-d alter the laws of nature in Egypt and at the Red Sea. They had witnessed G-d’s promise to Avraham fulfilled: "ואחרי כן יצאו ברכוש גדול" and afterwards they will leave with great wealth. Each one of them left Egypt with ninety donkeys carrying all the goods of Egypt, and when they emerged from the sea they acquired loot far greater than anything they had taken from Egypt. They walked through the desert, with not a snake or scorpion harming them, with G-d accompanying them with the pillar of cloud and pillar of fire. Daily, they received food from Heaven, the Manna and the quail. During their entire journey, their clothes never became worn nor did their feet swell. Having witnessed all these miracles, they had no reason to doubt that what G-d was about to give them was good. It isn’t surprising that they agreed. Why, then, are they praised so much? And furthermore, why did G-d have to uproot the mountain and place it over them, forcing them to accept, if they were so readily willing to accept the Torah in the first place?
G-d wanted them to realize that it wasn’t dominion which was being given to them rather servitude; thousands of years of hard, suffering
work and toil through an incomprehensible exile.
The Gemara teaches us that בהדי דדלי רישא ממיא אנחו ליה זולטא דטינא ארישא, as he raised his head up from the water, they placed a pail of cement on his head. When a Canaanite slave immersed in a mikvah to assume his status as a slave, as soon as he emerged from the water a vessel was put on his head. By doing this, his status as a slave was established, as this action represents the essence of slavery, his burden to bear henceforth. So too when Bnei Yisrael received the Torah, G-d placed the mountain over their heads to show them that they are not receiving dominion but servitude. And still Bnei Yisrael said נעשה before נשמע with joy. Their sole desire was to be servants to G-d. As Tosafos asks in the name of the Yerushalmi, on the Mishna that states that it’s a merit for a slave to be freed: had he been the slave of the king would it be a merit for him to be freed? So too did Bnei Yisrael feel the great and lofty status of slavery, of servitude to G-d, the King of all Kings.
A slave who does not wish to go free after the allotted six years must have his ear pierced. The Gemara tells us אזן ששמעה קולי על הר סיני בשעה שאמרתי "כי לי בני ישראל עבדים" ולא עבדים לעבדים והלך זה וקנה אדון לעצמו ירצע, the ear heard My voice on Mount Sinai at the moment that I said “For unto Me the children of Israel are servants” they are My servants and not the servants of servants. And yet this person has disregarded that which the ear has heard, and has gone and bought a master for himself. Therefore let his ear be pierced. Accordingly, it would make more sense for the slave to have his ear pierced upon becoming a slave, immediately when he sold himself into slavery. Why, then, do we wait till the end of the six years?
A person who sells himself into slavery is doing so out of financial constraints, as the passuk says, "כי ימוך אחיך", If your brother becomes impoverished. This kind of slavery is legitimate and does not conflict with servitude to G-d. However, once the six years are up and henceforth the slave does not receive payment for his work and nevertheless he says he wishes to stay with his master and wants to remain a slave forever, it is then that his ear is pierced because "כי לי בני ישראל עבדים"—ולא עבדים לעבדים, “For unto Me the children of Israel are servants” they are My servants and not the servants of servants. When Bnei Yisrael crowned G-d as their King, when they said נעשה ונשמע out of love and joy, they too merited royal crowns, measure for measure. The ministering angels crowned each of them with two crowns, one for נעשה and one for נשמע.
This is the greatness and glory of a Jew—being a loyal servant of G-d, just like Moshe, who was called עבד ה', a servant of G-d, as it says "לא כן עבדי משה not so is My servant Moshe and "וימת שם משה עבד ה'" so Moshe, servant of Hashem, died there. Not only was he a loyal servant of G-d, but he was happy with his status, as we say in the Shabbos prayers, ישמח משה במתנת חלקו כי עבד נאמן קראת לו Moshe rejoiced in the gift of his portion: that you called him a faithful servant. Moshe’s greatness was in his joy in being a slave of G-d, and for this he merited a royal crown, as the prayer continues, כליל תפארת בראשו נתת לו a crown of splendor You placed on his head. When a person attains this level of service to G-d, there is no greater joy.
Our Sages tell us that Tzadok and Baitus, the students of Antigonus leader of Socho, erred when they heard him say "הוו כעבדים המשמשין את הרב שלא על מנת לקבל פרס", be like servants who serve their master not for the sake of receiving reward. They reasoned, "אפשר שיעשה פועל מלאכה כל היום ולא יטול שכרו ערבית?", is it reasonable that a worker will work all day and not get paid for his labor? Tzadok and Baitus did not understand the fundamental principle governing Bnei Yisrael’s “slavery”. They didn’t understand the secret of נעשה ונשמע. They reasoned that we are “workers” of G-d and therefore deemed it unreasonable not to get paid. But in truth, we are not hired “workers” for G-d, but slaves, slaves out of love for G-d, who willfully and happily serve Him, not for the sake of receiving any reward.
Just as Tzadok and Baitus did not understand this principle, so too did their successors hundreds of years later remain ignorant of this, as the Gemara tells us,
There was a Sadducee who saw Rava studying a Talmudic matter. Rava had put the fingers of his hands under his leg and he was crushing them [Rava did not realize, because he was engrossed in his studies—Rashi], and his fingers were flowing with blood. The Sadducee said to Rava:”O’ impulsive people who put their mouths before their ears! You still persevere in your impulsiveness! First you should have heard the commandments so that you would have known whether you were able to accept them. And if you did not first hear the commandments, you should not have accepted them.” Rava said to the Sadducee: “We who go in the ways of the complete faith, it is written about us: ‘The perfect faith of the upright shall lead them.’ Those people who go in the ways of perverseness, it is written about them: ‘and the perverseness of the faithless shall destroy them.’”
Rava, the great amora followed in the footsteps of his fathers who prefaced נעשה to נשמע, but the Sadducee went in the destructive ways of Tzadok and Baitus, not understanding the secret of bondage to and love of G-d.
I once heard the Gerrer Rebbe, author of the Lev Simcha ZT”L, tell over from his father the Imrei Emes, the following story which happened in the beis Medrash of his grandfather, the Sfas Emes: On one of the days of Sukkos the Sfas Emes told his Chassidim that when they say Hallel, they can stir the heavens when reciting אנא ה'. He did not explain what he meant. The Chassidim were divided as to what the Rebbe had meant; some concentrated extra hard when saying אנא ה' הושיע נא, Please, Hashem, save now, while some concentrated extra hard when saying אנא ה' הצליחה נא , Please, Hashem, bring success now. But the Imrei Emes said that he didn’t join them in prayer. He understood that his father meant neither אנא ה' הושיע נא nor אנא ה' הצליחה נא, but rather a different part of the Hallel—אנה ה' כי אני עבדך, Please, Hashem, for I am Your servant.
Sukkos is a time of great joy, greater than any other festival. As the Rambam writes, “even though there is a mitzvah to rejoice on each festival, on Sukkos there was a greater joy in the Beis HaMikdash as it says “and you shall rejoice before Hashem, your G-d, for a seven-day period.” Elsewhere we find the Rambam writes that saying Hallel denotes a greater level of happiness and that is why we do not recite it on Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur. Hence, if at that peak moment, on sukkos—the most joyous days of the year—during the heightened joy of reciting Hallel, a person cries out from the depths of his soul אנה ה' כי אני עבדך, Please, Hashem, for I am your servant, it is no wonder that he is capable of stirring the heavens!
May it be G-d’s will that we always merit being His servants, in joy, strength and pride, and may Hashem be happy with us and bring us into “His gates with thanksgiving; into his courts with praise.”
 שבת פ"ח ע"א
 תהלים ק"ג: כ'
 שבת קמ"ו ע"א
 שבת פ"ח ע"א
 ד"ה כפה
 שבת פ"ח ע"א
 יבמות מ"ד ע"א
ד"ה בגיטי נשים גיטין י"א ע"ב
 קידושין כ"ב ע"ב
 ויקרא כ"ה: כ"ה
במדבר י"ב: ז'
 דברים ל"ד: ה'
 שחרית של שבת
 אבות דרבי נתן, פ"ה: ב', see also רמב"ם פיה"מ אבות פ"א מ"ג , and הלכות תשובה פ"י
 שבת פ"ח ע"א
 הלכות לולב פ"ח הי"ב
 ויקרא כ"ג: מ'
 הלכות חנוכה פ"ג ה"ו
 תהלים ק': ד'