We read in Parashat Ki-Tavo of the proclamation made by Moshe and the kohanim to Benei Yisrael in Arvot Moav, “Pay heed and listen, O Israel – this day you have become a nation unto the Lord your God” (27:9).
The Midrash (Shir Hashirim Rabba 2:16) raises the obvious question as to the meaning of this declaration. Did Benei Yisrael really become God’s nation only at that point, forty years after the Exodus and after they accepted the Torah at Sinai? The Midrash cites the following answer to this question in the name of Rabbi Eliezer ben Yaakov: “Once Moshe taught them the Torah and they accepted it with a pleasant countenance, the verse considers it as though they received it that day at Mount Sinai.”
This proclamation is made at the conclusion of the series of speeches Moshe delivered before his death, which comprises the bulk of Sefer Devarim. As Moshe now bids farewell to the people, he compliments them for their warm and enthusiastic acceptance of his teachings, for the forty years during which they eagerly and thirstily absorbed the words of Torah he transmitted. He tells them that their enthusiasm for knowledge makes each day as significant as the day of Matan Torah, when the Torah was first presented to them.
Interestingly, the Gemara, in Masekhet Berakhot (63b), offers three Midrashic readings of the word “haskeit” (“Pay heed”) used in this verse, all of which refer to guidance regarding Torah study. First, the Gemara suggests that “haskeit” relates to the word “kitot” (“groups”), and thus instructs that Torah should be studied in groups, rather than in solitude. Secondly, the Gemara interprets this word to mean “crush,” such that it speaks of the need for intensive and rigorous devotion to the pursuit of Torah knowledge and understanding, even at the expense of physical comfort and relaxation. Finally, the Gemara explains “haskeit” to mean that students should at first remain silent (“has”), and only then proceed to dissect (“kateit”) and thoroughly analyze the material. Meaning, one should first accumulate and absorb a large base of knowledge before embarking on in-depth questioning and analysis.
Significantly, although in this verse Moshe salutes and congratulates the people for their attention to, and enthusiastic acceptance of, the Torah he taught them, Chazal detected within this verse practical advice for future study. They transformed, so-to-speak, Moshe’s words of praise for the past into words of guidance for the future.
These readings of the verse perhaps remind us that the pride we justifiably feel over our achievements must lead not to contentment and complacency, but rather to a commitment to achieve more. Reflecting proudly on our successes is valid only if it motivates us to work towards even greater success and achievement. It was clear to Chazal that if Moshe was praising the people for their achievements over the last forty years, he was also providing them with guidance for their future growth. The Gemara thus teaches that we are entitled to congratulate ourselves for what we’ve accomplished only if our sense of achievement will encourage us and inspire further efforts to grow and to pursue even more ambitious goals.
(See Dr. Meir Grozman’s article, “Haskeit U-shma Yisrael”)