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Forcing Mitzvos

Rashi [quoting the gemarra] raises a contradiction early on in our sedra (1:3). The pasuk tells us ‘if an olah is his sacrifice…he is to offer it up (‘yakriv oso’) willingly (‘lirtzono’) before HaShem.’ The problem is that the words yakriv oso mean that we force this person to bring his sacrifice, but then the pasuk says that the sacrifice is to be offered lirtzono; willingly. So which is it; is it forced or is it offered willingly? Rashi continues that the resolution is that we force the korban donor to bring his korban until he says that he wants to. Technically, it seems like the question is answered; we start by forcing him and the result is that he offers the korban willingly. But what is the logic here

; of course if he is being forced then he is going to tell us ‘I really actually want to give this korban,’ but this is not real consent – this is duress! Another branch of this question is that several rishonim

[1] point out that the aim of a korban is to inspire its donor to do sincere teshuva and realise the futility of sin. How exactly is this achieved if the donor of the korban is being forced into giving the korban; surely he will ignore any of these spiritual messages due to the force which was applied to him? To answer this, we shall bring a precedent in another area of halacha. A get (divorce contract) must be given with the full consent and wish of the husband; otherwise it is invalid. However, there are certain cases when beis din force an individual to give his wife a get. How is this get valid? The gemarra gives the same answer; we force the husband until he says ‘I am giving this get willingly.’ But we can ask the same question as we asked above: he is surely only saying he wants to give the get because this is the only way he can avoid a beating! Why should such a get be valid? We shall introduce the answer with a story. In one yeshiva I attended, there was a special dancing session after davening on Shavuos night. Being not particularly fond of dancing at the time, I decided to sit at the side learning instead, allowing others to have their fun dancing in a circle. Not long into my learning, I was tapped on the shoulder by a friend, who ordered me up into the circle. ‘You have to dance with everyone else; the Rebbei’m say that everyone has to join in – that way more people will be enthused and more people will be learning later on.’ He then told me that he had coined a name for this; ‘we call it enforced fun,’ he said. Anyway, after (being forced to) joining in the dancing, I actually enjoyed it, and probably learnt better later as a result. This is the key to the answer to the question above: ‘enforced fun,’ as we shall explain. The Rambam

[2] addresses the issue of the forced get directly. He explains that being forced to do a mitzvah is not duress. In his words ‘duress is only when someone is forced to do something that is not anyway incumbent on him from the Torah, like one who is hit until he agrees to sell or give something. But someone whose yetzer hara forced him to avoid a mitzvah or commit a sin, and [this person] is then hit until he does something that he is meant to do or until he desists from doing something that he is not supposed to do – this is not duress; he put himself under duress (initially) with his own bad (call of) conscience.’ What the Rambam is saying is that each person is innately and internally good; each person’s character/personality has a natural spiritual connection to HaShem and His Torah, and therefore wants to perform His mitzvos. So what happens; why do we not feel as spiritually attuned as this? Because we have pushed ourselves to ignore this natural urge, and have covered it up with other (mostly material or self-centred) desires. But our essence is not our desires; our core is a spiritual one [:the pasuk tells us ‘you shall not stray after your desires;’ the ‘you’ is not the same as the ‘desires.’] Therefore, when beis din force someone to give a get or bring their korban, this is not duress; the person is just being brought back to their real self. This is a removal of the spiritual duress which the person placed himself in in the first place, and so deep down, he is giving the korban/get willingly. This is also how the donor of the korban he can ingest the lessons of Teshuva; because he is bringing the korban willingly at the end of the day. This also answers a question raised by Tosafos. The gemarra

[3] reports that, at Mount Sinai, HaShem turned the mountain on top of Bnei Yisrael in order to force them to accept the Torah. Tosafos there asks what the point of this act of forcing was; Bnei Yisrael had already promised to accept the Torah via their famous phrase of ‘na’aseh venishma’ (‘we will do and then we will listen’)? According to the above explanation of the Rambam, one can suggest that HaShem forced the people to accept the Torah in order to make a safeguard that Bnei Yisrael would indeed keep to their commitment full-heartedly; it was to beat out any yetzer hara. We shall point out the presence of this concept of each person having an innate internal connection to HaShem’s Path from several sources. First, in halacha, in certain areas one can make a condition. For example, one can say that ‘I am selling you this cow on condition that I manage to get rid of my farm within the year’ in which case then if at the end of the year the seller has not managed to offload his farm, the sale of the cow is retroactively annulled. However, if a condition goes against a mitzvah then it is invalid. For example, if one says ‘this shall be a sale on condition that I do not sit in the sukkah this year,’ the condition is not valid, and so the sale will go through regardless of whether or not the seller sits in the sukkah. Rabbeinu Tam

[4] explains the reason for this. It is because deep down a person does not want to go against a mitzvah, and so he does not really mean it when he makes such a condition. Another example is in the realm of oaths. One may make a binding oath on themselves to do any given action. For example, if one makes an oath to eat an apple today, then one is obligated to do so. But an oath which is made against a mitzvah (for example an oath to eat pork, or an oath not to sit in the sukkah) is invalid. Why? The Me’iri

[5] reveals that the reason is that deep down, a person does not want to go against a mitzvah, and so he does not really mean it when he says that he wants to make an oath which goes against a mitzvah. Both of these cases express the same theme; deep down we have an innate connection to a spiritual path. The Lubavitcher Rebbe added another illustration of this principle. He pointed out that in the Haggadah we say that there were four sons ‘one was wise, one wicked, one simple, and one did not know what to ask.’ Why repeat the word ‘one’ (echad) each time? He answered that the echad refers to HaShem, and so the Haggadah is telling us that each of the four sons has a Divine element within them; they have this innate connection to HaShem regardless of their actions. In fact, it is this internal spiritual core which is behind many of those ba’alei teshuva stories; someway or another, the person became more in touch with/aware of their spiritual core, and became a ba’al teshuva as a result. We shall end with one last illustration of our principle. Often, when the Torah is lambasting the worship of idols, it uses the phrase ‘other gods which you did not know about’ (‘asher lo yeda’um’)

.[6] What does this phrase mean, and why is it so much worse that we are worshipping idols which we are not familiar with; is it any better if they were idols which we have worshipped in the past? The key here is the word yeda’um. It is from the root da’as, which is translated as ‘to know.’ But it means more than that. In Bereishis (4:1), we are told that Adam and Chavah conceived (a baby). The Torah uses the words ‘veha’adam yada es chavah ishto’ (and Adam knew Chavah his wife); the root is da’as again. The concept is that da’as means an internal link and connection; one expression of which is (internal) knowledge. Therefore, when the Torah reports that people are serving idols which they do not know (yeda’um), it is saying that people are worshipping powers/idols which are not part of them; I.e. we were serving idols with which we have no innate internal connection with these idols, whilst we do have an innate connection with HaShem. Have a great Shabbos

[1] Sefer Hachinuch mitzvah 95, Sforno Vayikra 1:2, and one level of explanation in the Ramban Vayikra 1:9

[2] Rambam hilchos Geirushin 2:20

[3] Gemarra Shabbos 88a and Tosafos there ‘kafah’

[4] Rabbeinu Tam brought in Tosafos ’harie’ on the side of Kesubos 56a

[5] Me’iri Gittin 46a

[6] For example, Yirmiyah 19:4