For the week ending 15 May 2004 / 24 Iyyar 5764

The Second Goblet

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
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"We shall do and we shall listen!"

This was the response of our ancestors to the Divine invitation to receive the Torah over 3,300 years ago. This unquestioning trust which they put into the Creator set them apart from all the other nations who insisted on first knowing what was expected of them before consenting to commit themselves to such an all-encompassing Divine set of rules.

It is this trust that the Creator would not demand of them anything beyond their capacity to fulfill which is the usual understanding of the unique nature of our ancestors placing "doing" before "listening", an expression of faith which gained for each of them two angel-bestowed crowns one for naase (we shall do) and one for nishma (we will listen).

There is, however, another perspective of naase and nishma which emerges from a midrash that focuses on the Prophet Yirmiyahus call to his people to "listen" to the Word of G-d". The parable presented by the midrash is one of a king ordering his servant to bring two precious crystal goblets to his palace. En route to the palace a calf bumps into the servant and causes one of the goblets to break. When the king encounters the servant he sees before him a man shaking with fear. Upon asking him why he is so agitated, the king hears about the accident which destroyed the first goblet. Rather than scolding him for the loss of this precious goblet, the king merely tells him that he will now have to be extremely careful to ensure that the second goblet is not broken.

Jews were given two goblets at Sinai, explains the midrash, one for naase and one for nishma. The incident of the golden calf resulted in the breaking of the naase goblet. The prophet therefore warns us to be extremely careful not to break the second goblet of nishma.

In regard to Torah observance there are two areas doing and listening. Doing is the fulfillment of all the Torah commandments. Listening is the area of studying the Torah. The faithless episode of the golden calf definitely hurt our capacity to faithfully fulfill our obligations but we were left with the second goblet of listening to G-d through our study of Torah and thus strengthening our ability to perform as well.

This relationship between doing and listening is crucial to our approach today to outreach to alienated Jews. It is extremely difficult to introduce such Jews to the actual performance of mitzvot so foreign to their disadvantaged upbringing. But they are invariably ashamed of their total ignorance of Judaism and are anxious to listen when information is properly presented.

So while our ancestors gained their crowns and their glory by putting doing before listening, for many of their descendants it must be a process of putting listening first in order that it will eventually lead to doing.

It is that second goblet of listening which we, as the servants of our King of Kings, must carefully guard so that we can extend a drink of Torah from it to those who are ready to listen and eventually do.

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