In Memory of our Beloved Sister, Miriam Pinkerson, a.h., whose great love of Torah and people influenced all of us. May she be a meilitz yosher for us in the Olam Ha’emes, and her memory be for a brocha.
Nullifying the Contract
If a person is going to be coerced into a contract, is there a way for him to prevent it from becoming active? Yes. He should have witnesses produce a document which declares that the contract he is going to sign is being produced under duress. Later, he can present this document (called ‘moda’ah’) to demonstrate that his contract is null and void.
The original contract, though, is not worthless. At a later date, he can return to the contract and activate it…
The Deceptive Divorce
Normally, when a man gives a divorce document (known as ‘get’) to his wife, he must declare that he is divorcing her. However, if they had been discussing divorce, he can hand the get to her without explanation, because she expected the divorce, and understands that she’s being handed her ‘get.’
Nonetheless, if a man gives a ‘get’ to his wife under the pretext that it was an IOU, even though they had been discussing divorce, and she reads it and understands what it is, she is still not divorced. His claiming that the ‘get’ was actually an IOU has nullified its efficacy. It is as if he had written a ‘moda’ah’ nullifying a contract, in which case the contract does not become active.
However, just as in the case of the nullified contract, which he can later reactivate — here too, he can reactivate the ‘get’ at a later time… (1)
The Contract to Keep the Torah
At Mount Sinai, the Jews were asked if they agreed to abide by the Torah. They enthusiastically accepted. Nonetheless, the Talmud and Medrash derive from verses that Hashem forced them to accept (see Rashi, Shmos, 19:17). Since they were forced into the contract — and this was stated in advance — the Talmud concludes that the Jews had a claim of ‘moda’ah’ — they had grounds to nullify the contract by demonstrating that it was made through duress. (2)
Rava concludes that in the days of Achashveros, due to their recognition of the miracles of Purim, they again accepted the Torah, reactivating the contract. (3) This time, their acceptance was total, without any coercion.
Acceptance By Force?
Since they had willingly accepted the Torah originally, what was the need to coerce them to begin with? (4)
The authors of Tosafos answer that the need for coercion was due to concern lest the Jews retract when they would see the frightening scene of Mount Sinai on fire. Hashem showed them that they would not be allowed to change their minds. That is to say, “Now that you’ve agreed to the contract, you cannot withdraw.” Often, contracts can be cancelled. In regard to the contract of the Torah, there is no escape clause.
The Oneg Yom Tov (5), explaining the Maharik, describes the situation. Klal Yisrael did not withdraw when they saw the fire, but Hashem sensed that their resolve was not strong enough. The fact that Hashem had to prod Yisrael remained a blemish in Kabalas Hatorah for generations.
It’s important to note that their acceptance was made with complete will and desire. However, the inability to change their minds made the situation similar to compulsion. Ibid. When a person coerces another person, it’s only a physical compulsion, but the mind remains free. However, when Hashem coerces, the mind itself is restricted by fear and cannot choose. Ibid.
Shavuos is the time to strengthen our commitment for Torah learning and mitzva observance. In Hashem’s love, He compelled us to accept the Torah — it’s time for us to reciprocate and show resolve on our part… Let’s accept the Torah with love, simchah and fervor!
1. Gittin 78a. He does not have to hand it to her a second time.
2. Shabbos 88a.
4. There are many ways to explain this; we discussed an alternative view from Medrash Tanchuma and the Beis Halevi this year in Ha’aros for Parshas Ki Sisa.
5. See Sha’eilos and Teshuvos Oneg Yom Tov, introduction, part 20 and part 24.