I have no problem believing that everything in the Torah is true. I just have a problem doing it. The temptations are too great and I'm tired of fighting with them. The enthusiasm I had when I took all this on has long burned out. To be blunt, I just don't feel like doing this anymore.


Perhaps you've heard the story in the Talmud1 of G‑d lifting the mountain over our heads and forcing us to accept the Torah. It indeed raises many questions, some of which are addressed by the commentators.

The Tosafists question why force was necessary in the first place. The Jews had already told Moses that they will accept the Torah—coining the famous phrase, "na'aseh venishma – we will do and (then) we will hear." If they were already willing to comply with all of the commandments, why was coercion needed?

They answer that G‑d didn't want the Jews to get cold feet when confronted with the fiery scene on Mt. Sinai. So in order to keep them in line, He held the mountain over their heads.

That's nice, but the Baal Shem Tov goes much further and deeper:

There may be a point in a Jew's life where he loses all motivation to follow the Torah. Maybe it's too hard, maybe there is no inspiration. Whatever the reason, he simply feels he cannot do it. That's the way any living organism works: No creature can do something for which it has no motivation—whether that be pleasure or at least, avoidance of pain. Why should a flesh and blood human being be any different?

True, we made a commitment. We said, "We will do and we will hear"—and we meant it, no matter what the situation, no matter what the challenge. But commitment only helps as long as you have the capacity to do. At a certain point, that capacity is lost. "G‑d excuses those who are under duress."2 Simply put—even by the law of Torah—if you cannot do something, you are no longer obligated to do it.

But our commitment was only one component in accepting the Torah; also involved was an element of force. Not force that gives us no choice but to oblige, rather force that empowers us to do the impossible. Even at times where we have no desire to follow the Torah and do the mitzvahs, there will still be that spark within every Jew empowering us to keep going and not yield to outside pressure.

This super-human strength can only be endowed by G‑d. By lifting the mountain over the Jewish people, He wasn't just threatening us. He was giving us His infinite power, the power to overcome any challenge and to do the humanly impossible.

Perhaps this will shed light on a story of the Tzemach Tzedek. A Jew came to him and bemoaned that he had no desire to study Torah. The Tzemach Tzedek replied, "Oh, you fortunate man. And what am I to do, that I do desire to study Torah?"

As it turns out, you are one very lucky guy. We who are inspired and motivated, we do mitzvahs with our own, very human power. You who can no longer rely on that engine, when you do a mitzvah, it is with the unbounded power of an infinite G‑d.

Wishing you a meaningful (and forceful) Shavuot,

Rabbi Eliezer Zalmanov