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The Torah Learning Library of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah

Should Torah be a Choice?

by Rabbi Haggai Resnikoff (Posted on October 7, 2016)
Topics: Belief & Observance, God, Faith, Religiosity & Prayer, Halakha & Modernity, Machshava/Jewish Thought, Mitzvot

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This article is part of Torat Chovevei, a Community Learning Program led by Yeshivat Chovevei Torah with the support of the Covenant Foundation. The goal of the program is to connect communities to YCT through the medium of Torah learning. All topics discussed weave relevant contemporary issues together with Torah and non-Torah sources in monthly home-based learning groups (chaburot). These groups are guided by Rabbi Haggai Resnikoff, Rebbe and Director of Community Learning at YCT. For further information about Torat Chovevei, and how your community can get involved, please contact Rabbi Resnikoff at

Although voluntary buy-in is a more motivational incentive than extrinsic reward and certainly more than threat of punishment, there may still be good reason to insist that Jewish education and general keeping of mitzvot be mandatory and not a choice. Declaring something as mandatory emphasizes its importance, and, despite emotional objections, it can help ingrain habits (especially in children) so that any alternative would be unthinkable. This then raises the question of what is so important about the Torah that we need to brainwash ourselves and our children to keep it even against our will?

Talmud Bavli, Masechet Shabbat 88a

(שמות יט, יז) ויתיצבו בתחתית ההר א”ר אבדימי בר חמא בר חסא מלמד שכפה הקב”ה עליהם את ההר כגיגית ואמר להם אם אתם מקבלים התורה מוטב ואם לאו שם תהא קבורתכם א”ר אחא בר יעקב מכאן מודעא רבה לאורייתא אמר רבא אעפ”כ הדור קבלוה בימי אחשורוש דכתיב (אסתר ט, כז) קימו וקבלו היהודים קיימו מה שקיבלו כבר אמר חזקיה מאי דכתיב (תהלים עו, ט) משמים השמעת דין ארץ יראה ושקטה אם יראה למה שקטה ואם שקטה למה יראה אלא בתחילה יראה ולבסוף שקטה ולמה יראה כדריש לקיש דאמר ריש לקיש מאי דכתיב (בראשית א, לא) ויהי ערב ויהי בקר יום הששי ה’ יתירה למה לי מלמד שהתנה הקב”ה עם מעשה בראשית ואמר להם אם ישראל מקבלים התורה אתם מתקיימין ואם לאו אני מחזיר אתכם לתוהו ובוהו:“And they stood at the bottom of the mountain (Exodus 19:17)-” Rabbi Avdimi the son of Chama the son of Chasa said, “This teaches that the Holy One, Blessed be He, held the mountain over them like a barrel and said, ‘If you accept the Torah, it is good. And if not, here shall be your graves.'” Rav Acha Bar Yaakov said, “From here there is a great claim against the Torah!” Rava said, “Even so, they accepted it again [willingly] in the days of Ahasuerus, as it is written, (Esther 9:27) ‘They upheld and accepted’ – they upheld what they already accepted.” Hezkiah said, “Why is it written?” (Psalms 76:9) “From the heavens was heard judgement. The earth was frightened and quiet.” If frightened, why quiet? If quiet, why frightened? Rather in the beginning they were frightened and in the end they were quiet. And why were they frightened? According to Resh Lakish, it is written: (Genesis 1:31) “Then it was evening and it was morning of ‘the’ sixth day.” ‘The’ is extra. Why do I have it? It teaches that G-d made a condition with the act of creation and said to it, “If Israel accepts the Torah, you will exist; if not, I will return you to chaos.”


  1. According to this sugya, what is the ideal way of creating a covenant? By force or through voluntary agreement? Why was it necessary for God to hold the mountain over the people’s heads? Was there a better way to achieve God’s goals?
  2. What exactly is the objection of Rav Acha bar Ya’akov? Is it legal? Ethical? Practical? Does Rava’s solution solve the problem for our generation?

Talmud Bavli Masechet Avodah Zarah 2b

אומרים לפניו רבש”ע כלום נתת לנו ולא קיבלנוה ומי מצי למימר הכי והכתי’ (דברים לג, ב) ויאמר ה’ מסיני בא וזרח משעיר למו וכתיב (חבקוק ג, ג) אלוה מתימן יבוא וגו’ מאי בעי בשעיר ומאי בעי בפארן א”ר יוחנן מלמד שהחזירה הקב”ה על כל אומה ולשון ולא קבלוה עד שבא אצל ישראל וקבלוה אלא הכי אמרי כלום קיבלנוה ולא קיימנוה ועל דא תברתהון אמאי לא קבלתוה אלא כך אומרים לפניו רבש”ע כלום כפית עלינו הר כגיגית ולא קבלנוה כמו שעשית לישראל…
[The nations] said before God, “Master of the Universe, did you give us any [mitzvot] that we didn’t accept?” But how can they ask that, behold it is written, “And he said, God came from Sinai and shone to his nation from Seir.” And it says, “God will come from Teman…” What does God want in Seir, and what does God want in Paran? Rabbi Yochanan said, “This teaches that God went to every nation and they didn’t accept [the Torah] until God came to Israel and they accepted it. Rather, they said thus, “Did we accept anything that we didn’t fulfill?” [But God could respond] ‘That is why I’m punishing you! Why didn’t you accept it? Rather they said thus, “Master of the Universe, did you overturn the mountain above us and we didn’t accept it, as you did for Israel? …


  1. According to the nations of the world, what advantage did Israel get that the rest of the world did not? Do you think Israel saw it as an advantage at the time? Do you believe that it was a true advantage?
  2. What modern examples can we find of someone who feels unhappy (after the fact) that they were not forced to do something? Do these examples ring true?
  3. Who is at fault here? God, for not forcing the nations, or the nations for not accepting the Torah voluntarily? How does this map onto the examples above?

Donald Delves, Forbes, 2/16/11

Is Incentive Compensation a True Motivator?


…Behavioral researchers have found that external incentives can work against the inherent motivator of autonomy, our basic need to feel that we are in charge of our own destiny. Autonomy, relatedness (connection with others) and competence (a sense of mastery, accomplishment and achievement) are the core human needs and key intrinsic motivators at the heart of what is known as self-determination theory (SDT)….
… In fact, much of the research shows that extrinsic rewards are most effective in getting people to do repetitive, well defined tasks, or things they otherwise would not find personal meaning or value in doing…
…SDT research shows that people perform much better when they feel that their personal values and ideals are aligned with those of their organization, and where they derive meaning from pursuing the company’s mission. They also perform better when they feel a connection with other people and in environments where they develop a sense of mastery or competence.
This implies that companies that value creativity and innovation should have a meaningful and clearly articulated purpose and mission, and should hire and promote people who are in tune with that purpose. It suggests that camaraderie, teamwork and employee development are more critical to performance than lucrative monetary incentives.
However, people do work for money and most of us enjoy spending it, so a combination of monetary rewards and the softer motivational tools may be most effective. In the real world, the line between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation may not be a bright as it is for psychologists studying discrete phenomena in laboratories where all variables are known and quantified.
Nevertheless, the research findings raise provocative questions about the effectiveness of financial incentives as drivers of performance. By adroitly applying the findings, companies might be able to craft more nuanced, less formulaic compensation programs that are better suited to their needs and more effective at creating shareholder value.


  1. How do you think threat of punishment compare to money and SDT as a motivator? Depending on your conclusion, how sound was God’s strategy in holding the mountain over the people’s heads? What does the evidence in the Tanach show?
  2. In what situations have you found forcing people to do things to be a successful endeavor? Is there any analogies between these cases and the case of the people at Sinai?
  3. The end of the article suggests integrating intrinsic and extrinsic rewards. How does that translate in the question of coercion vs. non-coercion in Jewish education? What about in our own Jewish practices?

Shev Shmateta, Introduction

חזות קשות ראיתי…ונראה לפמ”ש רז”ל בהא דאי’ בגמ’ ויתיצבו בתחתית ההר מלמד שכפה עליהם הר כגיגית. אם מקבלים אתם את התורה מוטב ואם לאו שם תהא קבורתכם והקשו דהא כבר נתרצו ואמרו נעשה ונשמע. וכתוב בגור אריה דלא יתכן להיות קבלת התורה ע”י בחירה אם ירצו יקבלו ואם לא ירצו לא יקבלו. אלא מראה להם הקב”ה שהתורה הוא הכרחי להם. ודבר הכרחי יש לו קיום לעולם כדאיתא במדרש. דבאונס כתיב לא יוכל לשלחה כל ימיו ע”ש. והנה מצינו שהתאוו תאוה והיינו שלא היה להם שום תאוה חומריית. וכמ”ש באלשיך שהתאוו שיהיה להם תאוה ע”ש, ולפמ”ש הטעם הוא משום דע”י המן שהיה משר התורה ולחם אבירים היה כל חפצם ותשוקתם רק לתורה ונפשם יבשה וריק מכל תאות החומריות והם התאוו תאוה שיהיה להם קבלת התורה בחפצם ורצונם. כמו שאמרו נעשה ונשמע. כי אין אדם חפץ באהבה הכרחית. לזאת התרעמו על המן והכרחתו לאהבת התורה. ואמרו זכרנו את הדגה אשר נאכל במצרים חנם. פי’ בלי הכרח רק את אשר בחרנו ואשר מצא חן בעינינו. כי כן פי’ מלת חנם. כמבואר בשרשי רד”ק שרש חנן. ועתה נפשינו יבשה אין כל בלתי אל המן הוכרחנו. ואנחנו רוצים שיהיה הבחירה בידינו. אמנם גם ע”י הבחירה נאכל המן. כי אם לא היה המן טוב למאכל ונחמד למראה היינו צריכין אל ההכרח. אבל באמת המן כזרע גד הוא ועינו כעין הבדולח. ובודאי נאכל ממנו. אך לא יסור מאתנו כל התאוות ותהיה לנו קבלת התורה ברצון ובבחירה כמו שאמרו נעשה ונשמע…I have seen difficult sights…And it appears, according to wht the Rabbis wrote about what it says in the Gemara, “‘And they camped under the mountain…’ This teaches that God upturned the moutain above them like a bucket – if you accept the Torah, well and good, and if not, there is your grave.” And [the Rabbis] questioned that they had already accepted [the Torah] and said, “We will do and we will hear.” And the Gur Aryeh writes that it is not possible for acceptance of the Torah by choice – if they want, they’ll accept it and if not they won’t – rather God shows them that the Torah is mandatory for them. And a mandatory thing lasts forever… And we find that [later] they lusted. And that is referring to the fact that they had no material appetites. As it says in the Alshech, that they lusted that they should have lust. And according to what we have written, the reason is that because of the manna, which was from the Angel of the Torah and the bread of nobility, all of their desire and longing was only for Torah and their souls were dry and empty of any material appetites, and they lusted that they should accept the Torah from free will and desire. As they said, “We will do and we will hear.” For beings do not desire enforced love. For this reason they grew angry at the manna and it’s enforcement of their love of the Torah. And they said, “We remember the fish that we ate in Egypt freely.” Meaning without force but rather by choice and through personal preference. For this is meaning of the word free…’And now our souls are dry and there is nothing except for being forced to eat manna. Of course, we would eat manna by choice. For if the manna wasn’t good to eat, and attractive to look at, then we would need force. But the truth is that the manna is like coriander and it looks lik bdellium. And certainly we will eat it. But don’t let our appetites all leave us, and our acceptance of the Torah will be with desire and choice as we said, ‘We will do and we will hear…'”

Shemonah Perakim, 6, Rambam

אמרו הפילוסופים שהמושל בנפשו אע”פ שעשה המעשים הטובים והחשובים, הוא עושה אותם והוא מתאוה אל הפעולות הרעות ונכסף אליהם, ויכבוש את יצרו, ויחלוק בפעולותיו על מה שיעירוהו אליו כחותיו ותאותו ותכונת נפשו, ויעשה הטובות והוא מצטער בעשיתם (ונזוק), אבל החסיד הוא נמשך בפעולתו אחר מה שתעירהו אליו תאותו ותכונתו ויעשה הטובות והוא מתאוה ונכסף אליהן, ובהסכמה מן הפילוסופים שהחסיד יותר חשוב ויותר שלם מן המושל בנפשו, אבל אמרו אפשר שיהיה המושל בנפשו כחסיד בענינים רבים, ומעלתו למטה ממנו בהכרח, להיותו מתאוה לפועל הרע, ואע”פ שאינו עושה אותו מפני שתשוקתו לרע היא תכונה רעה בנפש…וכאשר חקרנו דברי חכמים בזה הענין, נמצא להם שהמתאוה לעבירות והנכסף אליהם יותר חשוב ויותר שלם מאשר לא מתאוה אליהם, ולא יצטער בהנחתם, עד שאמרו שכל אשר יהיה האיש יותר חשוב ויותר שלם תהיה תשוקתו לעבירות והצטערו בהנחתן יותר גדול, והביאו בזה הדברים ואמרו כל הגדול מחבירו יצרו גדול ממנו, ולא דים זה אלא שאמרו ששכר המושל בנפשו גדול לפי רוב צערו במשלו בנפשו, ואמרו לפום צערא אגרא, ויותר מזה שהם ציוו שיהא האדם מתאוה לעבירות, והזהירו מלומר שאני בטבעי לא אתאוה לזאת העבירה ואע”פ שלא תאסרה התורה, והוא אמרם רבן שמעון בן גמליאל אומר לא יאמר אדם אי אפשי לאכול בשר בחלב, אי אפשי ללבוש שעטנז, אי אפשי לבוא על הערוה, אלא אפשי ומה אעשה ואבי שבשמים גזר עלי… PHILOSOPHERS maintain that though the man of self-restraint performs moral and praiseworthy deeds, yet he does them desiring and craving all the while for immoral deeds, but, subduing his passions and actively fighting against a longing to do those things to which his faculties, his desires, and his psychic dis- position excite him, succeeds, though with constant vexation and irritation, in acting morally. The saintly man, however, is guided in his actions by that to which his inclination and disposition prompt him, in consequence of which he acts morally from innate longing and desire. Philosophers unanimously agree that the latter is superior to, and more perfect than, the one who has to curb his passions, although they add that it is possible for such a one to equal the saintly man in many regards. In general, however, he must necessarily be ranked lower in the scale of virtue, because there lurks within him the desire to do evil, and, though he does not do it, yet because his inclinations are all in that direction, it denotes the presence of an immoral psychic disposition….When, however, we consult the Rabbis on this subject, it would seem that they consider him who desires iniquity, and craves for it (but does not do it), more praiseworthy and perfect than the one who feels no torment at refraining from evil; and they even go so far as to maintain that the more praiseworthy and perfect a man is, the greater is his desire to commit iniquity, and the more irritation does he feel at having to desist from it. This they express by saying, (Sukkah 52a) “Whosoever is greater than his neighbor has likewise greater evil inclinations”. Again, as if this were not sufficient, they even go so far as to say that the reward of him who overcomes his evil inclination is commensurate with the torture occasioned by his resistance, which thought they express by the words, (Pirkei Avot 5:23) “According to the labor is the reward”. Furthermore, they command that man should conquer his desires, but they forbid one to say, “I, by my nature, do not desire to commit such and such a transgression, even though the Law does not forbid it”. Rabbi Simeon ben Gamaliel summed up this thought in the words, “Man should not say, ‘I do not want to eat meat together with milk; I do not want to wear clothes made of a mixture of wool and linen; I do not want to enter into an incestuous marriage’, but he should say, ‘I do indeed want to, yet I must not, for my father in Heaven has forbidden it'”…


  1. According to the Shev Shmateta, what was the reaction of Israel to their enforced love of Torah? Did it accomplish the desired goal?
  2. According to the Rambam, is there even any point in attempting to enforce Torah through a drug that drains you of any desire to break it? Is the end result desirable? What is the highest level of keeping the Torah? Is this for everyone?

Shev Shemateta

כפעולות איש כן משכורתו. ומצינו שאמרו חז”ל בקברות התאוה שהיה להם תאוה זרה, שרואים שהבשר ממית ואעפ”כ לא עמדו מתאוותם. והוא לפי שהתרעמו על המן והכרחתו אל התורה, כי חפצם באהבה בחירי ומאסו באהבה הכרחי, ולכן כמדתם שילם להם, שגם התאוה זרה הניתנת להם הכרחית היתה, אף שהמיתה לא נטו מאחריה. ומזה יוכל המשכיל להבין אם לתאוה זרה כח נפלא כזה להמית עצמו עליה, על אחת כמה וכמה לתורה ולמצוות שיתלהב לב האדם בחשק נפלא ונורא מאד, ולקיים בנפשו אדם כי ימות באהל, ולא יחוש לקמחיה ולהיות אכזרי על עצמו, ויהגה בתורתו יומם ולילה, ואז יהיה טוב לו בזה ובבא. According to a person’s actions, such is their reward. We find that the Rabbis said at Kivrot HaTa’avah that they had a strange lust, for they saw that the meat was lethal and even so they did not cease from lusting. And this was because they were angry at the manna and its enforcement for Torah. For they desired love by choice, and scorned mandatory love. And therefore, God repaid them according to their own measure. For the strange lust that was given to them was mandatory, and even though it killed, they did not abandon it. And from this the enlightened person can understand that if a strange lust has this wondrous power to kill oneself for it, how much more so for Torah and Mitzvot that the heart of a person will be enflamed by a wondrous desire to fulfill in themselves “a person who shall die in a tent,” and they do not think about food and they are cruel to themselves, and they think about God’s Torah day and night. And then it will be good for them in this world and in the next…


  1. How enforceable did the Torah turn out to be when the people didn’t want to be forced? What does this imply about the possibility of doing something because one is forced to it by nature?
  2. What is the author trying to tell us in this passage? Does he approve of God’s motivational strategy or disapprove? What does he claim is the most motivational model ultimately?

Gur Aryeh on Shemot 19:17

“שנתלש ההר” וכו’: בפרק רבי עקיבא (שבת פח.) הקשו התוספות (ד”ה כפה) הרי כבר אמרו “נעשה ונשמע” (להלן כד, ז), ולמה הוצרך לזה…
אבל העיקר הפירוש אשר נראה פשוט, כי כפה עליהם ההר כגיגית לומר ‘אם לא תקבלו התורה, שם תהא קבורתכם’ (שבת פח. ) לומר כי התורה היא הכרחית לקבלה, ואם לא יקבלו התורה – שמה תהא קבורתם. וידוע, כי דברים המוכרחים להיות הם חשובים במעלה יותר, שאי אפשר מבלעדם, ואין קיום לנמצא בזולתם. לכך כפה עליהם ההר כגיגית להודיע מעלת התורה, שאי אפשר מבלעדה כלל. ואם לא היה עושה זה, היו אומרים כי התורה אין הכרחית לעולם, רק ברצון קבלו עליהם, ואם לא קבלו – לא היו צריכין. לכך היה השם יתברך מפתה ומרצה אותם קודם, וכאשר ראו שעיקר נתינתה על ידי כפיית ההר, היו מוכרחים לומר כי נתינתה מוכרחת, שאין להם קיום זולתה. ולכך הביא שם (שבת פח. ) על המאמר זה “ויהי ערב ויהי בוקר יום הששי” (בראשית א, לא), ה”א יתרה למה לי, מלמד שהתנה הקב”ה עם מעשה בראשית, שאם לא יקבלו ישראל את התורה יחזור העולם לתוהו ובוהו. וזה המאמר בא לפרש למה כפה עליהם הר כגיגית, לומר כי נתינת התורה היא מוכרחת:
ואפילו הכי קאמר רבא שם (שבת פח. ) ‘מכאן מודעה רבה לאורייתא’, פירוש שהיה מכריח אותם לקבל התורה, אף על גב דלפי זה לא חזרו מן “נעשה ונשמע”, סוף סוף בשעה שקבלו התורה היו מוכרחים, וכיון שהיתה קבלתם בהכרח, יש כאן מודעה רבה לאורייתא:
וקאמר ד’הדר קבלו עליהם בימי אחשורוש’, דכתיב (אסתר ט, כז) “קיימו וקבלו”, ‘קיימו מה שקבלו כבר’. פירוש, שהיו מקבלים עליהם מצוה אחת ממצות התורה, דהיא קריאת מגילה, ואף על גב דאין כאן אונס, והם מעצמם קבלו עליהם, וכיון דהם מעצמם הסכימו לעשות מצוה זאת, (ו)זהו קבלת כל התורה, שאיך יוסיפו עוד מצוה – אם הראשונים הם מוכרחים עליהם, לפיכך קבלת קריאת המגילה הוא קבלת התורה ברצון:
ואם לא היה זה, היה מודעה רבא לומר כי קבלת התורה בהכרח, והדברים המוכרחים אינם בעצם. ולפיכך אם היו עוברים התורה יוכלו לומר כי אין התורה ראוי להיות לישראל בעצם, כי הדברים המוכרחים אינם בעצם, ואחר שהתורה אינה בעצם להם, אם כן אין התורה ראוי להם מצד עצמם. ואין חדוש אם יעברו התורה, שאם אין האבן עומד באויר – אין חדוש, מפני שאין טבעו לעמוד שם, והוא עומד לשם בכח ההכרח. וכאשר חדשו ישראל מצוה אחת מן המצות, אז נראה כי התורה לא היה באונס כלל ודבר הכרחי, רק כי התורה להם בעצם גם כן. ואף על גב שהיו מוכרחים תחלה, זה כמו שאמרנו למעלה, כי אי אפשר זולת זה, אבל התורה גם כן מצד שישראל ראוי להם התורה מצד עצמם, הרי התורה לישראל מצד הנותן שרוצה בזה, ומצד המקבל שהם ישראל. וזה נראה כאשר קבלו עליהם מקרא מגילה, הנה התורה להם מצד עצמם, ואין לומר שהתורה הוא אינו לישראל רק מצד הכרחי, והבן זה. כך פירוש דברי חכמים:
“That the mountain was uprooted” etc. In the chapter that begins, “Rabbi Akiva…” the Tosafot ask, they already said “We will do and we will hear,” why is all this (i.e. the uprooting of the mountain) necessary?…
However, the essential answer that seems straightforward is that God overturned the mountain like a bucket to say ‘If you do not accept the Torah, there will be your grave.’ That is to say that acceptance of the Torah is mandatory, and if you do not accept the Torah – there will be their grave. And it is known, that things that are required to be, they are the things that are most important, on another level, for it impossible to be without them, and there is no existence without them. Therefore, God overturned the mountain above them to tell them the importance of the Torah, that it is absolutely impossible to live without it. And if God did not do this, they would have said that the Torah is not mandatory forever, they only accepted it when they wanted it, and if they hadn’t accepted it, they wouldn’t have needed to. Therefore God tempted and appeased them beforehand, and when they saw that the essence of its giving was by way of overturning the mountain, they had to say that it was a mandatory giving, that they could not exist without it. This is why the Gemara brings there on this statement, “…the sixth day” (yom ha-shishi instead of yom shishi). The extra “ה” teaches that God made a condition with his creation that if Israel did not accept the Torah, the entire world would return to chaos. And this midrash comes to explain why God overturned the mountain above them, to show that the giving of the Torah was mandatory.
And even so, Rava says there, “From here there is a great objection to the Torah,” meaning that they were forced to accept the Torah, even though they never took back “We shall do and we shall hear,” in the end, at the moment that they accepted the Torah, they were forced. And since it was a forced acceptance, there is an objection to the Torah.
And he says that “They again accepted it upon themselves in the days of Ahasuerus,” as it says, “They fulfilled and they accepted,” ‘They fulfilled what they had already accepted.’ Meaning that they accepted upon themselves one mitzvah among the mitzvot of the Torah, that is, reading the Megillah, and even though there is no forcing, and they, on their own, accepted it on themselves. And since they, on their own agreed to do this mitzvah, this is an acceptance of the entire Torah. For how can they add another mitzvah – if the initial ones are against their will, therefore, the acceptance of reading the Megillah is an acceptance of the Torah by choice.
And if not for this, there would have been a major objection in saying that the acceptance of the Torah was forced and forced things are not a part of one’s essence. And therefore, if they violated the Torah, they could say that the Torah is not appropriate for the essence of Israel, because enforced things are not a part of one’s essence. And since the Torah is not a part of their essence, therefore, the Torah is not appropriate for them essentially. And there is no surprise if they violate the Torah, for if a stone doesn’t float in the air – this is not a surprise because it is not its nature to float, and it could only stay in the air through some kind of force. And when Israel made a new Mitzvah among the Mitzvot, then it was clear that the Torah was not forced on them at all and an enforced thing, rather, the Torah was also essential to them. And even though they were forced at first, this was because of what we wrote above, for it was impossible without it, but the Torah is also from the side of Israel and it is essential to them. For the Torah came to Israel from the side of the Giver who wants it, and from the side of the receiver who are Israel. And when they accepted the reading of the Megillah, it meant that the Torah was essential to them and they couldn’t say that the Torah was only given to Israel by force. And understand this. This is the meaning of the words of the Rabbis.


  1. According to the Gur Aryeh, what was the purpose of forcing the Jews to accept the Torah? Was it to motivate them? How does the Gur Aryeh understand Rava’s answer to Rav Acha bar Ya’akov? Does he reject volunteerism entirely?
  2. What is the Gur Aryeh’s model of integrating coercion with personal buy-in? How is this different from the message of the Shev Shmateta? How does the Gur Aryeh hold up under the critique of the Rambam?

Immanuel Kant, Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals, Translated by Jonathan Bennet, 2010-2015, pp. 39-40

…Whenever an object of the will has to be laid down as prescribing the rule that is to tell the will what to do, the rule is none other than heteronomy. In such a case the imperative is conditional— If or because you want such and such an object, you ought to act thus and so —so it can’t command morally, i.e. categorically. The object’s influence on what my will does may go through my preference (as in the principle of my own happiness) or through my reason directed to objects of my possible volitions (as in the principle of perfection); but the will in these cases never determines itself directly by the conception of the action itself. It is always directed by an object through something other than the will, namely through the action-driver that is stirred up in the will by the prospect of getting a certain result: I ought to do x because I will y; and then another law must be planted in me, a law saying that I must will y; and this law in its turn would require an imperative to restrict this maxim—i.e. an imperative of the form I ought to will y if I want z. Why? Because if instead we had simply I ought to will y, that involves no appeal to anything outside the will; it is a categorical imperative, and doesn’t involve heteronomy of the will. But that puts it outside the scope of the present discussion, which is of the consequences of trying to base morality on heteronomy, i.e. on the influence on the will of factors outside it. Relying on heteronomy has one bad consequence that I haven’t yet mentioned. With a hypothetical imperative such as we get with heteronomy of the will, the aim is for the thought of a result to be obtained by one’s own powers to stir up in the will an impulse of a certain kind (·the thought of achieving y is to stir up an impulse to do x·); but whether and how that thought generates that impulse depends on the natural constitution of the person concerned—i.e. depends either on his sensibility (preference and taste) or on his understanding and reason. Now, what the person’s sensibility or intellect makes of any intended upshot—e.g. whether it takes pleasure in it—depends on the details of what kind of sensibility or intellect nature has endowed the person with…which means that it would be contingent and therefore unfit to be a necessary practical rule such as the moral rule must be. This is still heteronomy of the will: the law is given to the will not by the will itself but by an impulse from outside it, an impulse that influences the will because the person’s nature makes him susceptible to it…All I have done is to show, by spelling out the generally accepted concept of morality, that an autonomy of the will is unavoidably connected with morality—is indeed its foundation. So anyone who holds that morality is something and not a chimerical idea without truth must accept, along with morality, the principle that I have derived here…


  1. Is Kant’s “autonomy of the will” closer to coercion or choice? If doing good, makes a person feel good, does that count as a moral act according to Kant? What would Kant characterize as a truly moral motive?
  2. Both Kant and the Gur Aryeh speak of an essential morality (or Torah). Are they in agreement about what that means?
  3. Between Kant, the Gur Aryeh, the Shev Shmateta, the Rambam, and the Gemara, which has the most realistic way of motivating and inspiring consistent observance and fulfillment of the Torah in real live people? Is there a distinction between children and adults?

Beit Yitzchak, ch. 100, sec. 9

עכ״פ הדבר ברור דבמעמד הר סיני קיבלו ישראל עליהם בלב שלם לשמור ולקיים המצות עלינו מפי הגבורה. ואמירתם לבד לא היה מהני כמ״ש. ולפמש״ל הדבר ברור דצריך לקבל בלב שלם וזולת זה לא יכנס לכלל יהדית והנה במדרש רבה תשא פ׳ מ״ב איתא דרש זה בשם ר״מ ושם מבואר דלבם היה לע״ז וזה ודאי צ״ע אך יש לישב דברי המדרש… ולחלק בין ישראל שהיו מוכרחים לקבלת התורה כמ״ש במהר״ל מפראג כיון שכפה עליהם הר כגיגית לכן מהני קבלה בפה משא”כ באוה”ע. In any case it is clear that at Sinai, Israel accepted the Torah with a whole heart to observe and fulfill the commandments from the mouth of God. And their oral statement alone would not have worked as I wrote above [without wholehearted acceptance]. And according to what I have written, it is clear that [a convert] needs to accept [the mitzvot], and without this, they cannot enter the Jewish community. And in Midrash Rabbah on Parashat Tisa it says this exposition in the name of Rabbi Meir and there it is clear that their hearts were actually on idolatry and this certainly needs explanation. However one can reconcile the words of the midrash… and to specify Israel who were forced to accept the Torah as the Maharal of Prague writes, since God overturned the mountain above them like a bucket. Therefore the oral statement [halfhearted though it may have been] was sufficient. This does not work with the Nations of the World.


  1. Why does the Beit Yitzchak think that being forced to accept the Torah allowed the Jews to accept it despite being less than wholehearted about it? Is this a good outcome?
  2. According to the Beit Yitzchak, what is the difference between Jews’ acceptance of the Torah and non-Jews? Can this suggest a difference between raising Jewish children versus training converts? Who needs to be forced despite their ambivalence? Who needs to be courted? Is this the way we actually raise children and prepare converts?