Rabbi Mordechai Willig
"'And now, if you listen to My voice and keep My Torah, you will be a treasure to Me'. If you accept [the Torah] upon yourselves now, it will be pleasant to you from now on, for all beginnings are difficult" (Rashi Shemos 19:5).
A difficult beginning seems to be a prerequisite for ultimate success and pleasure. However, Rashi does not define the pleasure that Am Yisrael will experience from now on.
Perhaps the answer lies in the words of Hashem: "You will be a treasure to Me from among all the nations, for all the earth is Mine. You will be for Me a kingdom of Kohanim and a holy people" (19:5,6). With exactly these words and no others (see Rashi), Moshe conveys Hashem's message. If you endure the necessarily difficult beginning, you will be His treasure, His priestly kingdom, and His holy people, thereby experiencing pleasure from now on.
"Hashem gave three good gifts to Am Yisrael, and He gave all of them only through yissurim: Torah, Eretz Yisrael, and olam habba" (Berachos 5a). We are Hashem's treasure, greater than the righteous gentiles (Seforno), because we received and continue to observe the Torah, notwithstanding any related initial difficulties.
We are a kingdom, a nation and not merely religious individuals, primarily in Eretz Yisrael. Only there are we called a kahal, a national community (Horayos 3a). This gift, like Torah, is given only after initial difficulties, and is experienced in this world (Or HaChayim). The final gift, being a holy nation, refers to olam habba (Ramban. See also Ramban Devarim 14:1,2). The suffering and pain endured in this world enables the ultimate, indescribable (Berachos 34b) pleasure of the next (See Maharsha Berachos 7a, Avos 5:26).
Thus, it will be pleasant for you from now on. You will lead a Torah life, eventually in Eretz Yisrael, and will ultimately be rewarded in olam habba. All three gifts have difficult beginnings which is a prerequisite for subsequent pleasure.
The anticipation of the ultimate pleasure enables Am Yisrael to survive despite persecution and alternative blandishments of the nations. This is lyrically expressed in the climactic portion of the majestic poem Akdamos, which is read just before the above mentioned pesukim on Shavuos.
These words, no more and no less, form Hashem's introduction to kabbalas haTorah. Delayed gratification is required of us now, during difficult beginnings. And it will be pleasant from now on, when we experiences Hashem's good gifts, no more and no less.
In a world that promotes instant gratification, the fundamental truths that preceded kabbalas haTorah require constant reinforcement. On an individual level, many have succumbed to the allure of temptation. Illicit immediate pleasure is not only sinful, but, as Rashi taught, if it is pleasant now, it cannot be pleasant from now on. The aftermath of instant gratification often ranges from hangover to depression.
By contrast, restraint, while difficult, allows for greater, albeit delayed, long lasting pleasure. Moreover, the difficulty of restraint is alleviated by the anticipation that it will be pleasant from now on.
While the word "now" introduces Hashem's one-time offer of the Torah to Klal Yisrael, each of us is required to treat the Torah as if it was just given to us now. "'These words that I command you today shall be upon your heart' They should not be in your eyes like an old decree that a person does not treasure, but rather like a new one that all run toward it (Rashi, Devarim 6:6). We must consider the Torah as new and given to us now.
Admittedly, this requires imagination. It should be like a new decree, even though it is not. However, this is limited to "these words" of the written Torah. The oral Torah, as it is studied in the beis hamedrash, is really new (Chagigah 3a).
We are energized and better connected to the Torah when it is new and exciting. This is "our portion in Your Torah" that we pray for on Shabbos. "Our portion" is achieved only by devoted study which requires self-sacrifice (Tanchuma Noach 3). Torah which is studied "B'af", under difficult circumstances, is precious and enduring (Rambam, Hilchos Talmud Torah 3:12).
"'Hashem will bring you to the land of the Canaanite and He will give it to you'. It should be in your eyes as if He gave it to you on that very day, and it should not be in your eyes as an inheritance (yerusha) from your fathers (Rashi, Shemos 13:11).
Rashi's expression, "on that very day", is reminiscent of his earlier comment concerning Torah, that we view it as if it was given to us today. Like Torah, Eretz Yisrael must be viewed as if we received it now.
"I will bring you to the land and I will give it to you as a heritage - morasha" (Shemos 6:8). Morasha is an expression of weakness and doubt. Yerusha, inheritance, is a certainty and requires no effort. This is because a heritage - morasha must be actively transmitted to the next generation, or else it is squandered.
"The Torah that Moshe commanded us is a heritage - morasha" (Devarim 33:4). This, too, is an expression of weakness and doubt. Only after great exertion can one master the Torah, rather than squander it (Yerushalmi Bava Basra 8:2, see P'nei Moshe).
The generation that saw the return of Eretz Yisrael to Jewish hands, especially those who recognize that "He gave it to you", was extremely attached to the land. These people acquired it with great sacrifice and difficulty, and correctly viewed it as a homeland worth fighting and even dying for.
Today's post-Zionists have unfortunately lost some of that attachment. Feelings of weakness and doubt have emerged, and squandering the precious heritage, in ways unimaginable a generation ago, has become a popular notion.
The religious community, thankfully, understands our biblical rights to, and responsibility for, the land Hashem gave us. We view it as a precious heritage given to us today, now.
The same post-Holocaust generation of religious Jews fought mightily to restore the glory of Torah study and practice. Incredible growth in these areas ensued, with great sacrifice to overcome major difficulties. It was a fulfillment of both of Rashi's comments; a difficult beginning generated a feeling that Torah was received once again today, now.
Some of that excitement, has, unfortunately, waned, and all sectors of the religious community have suffered from youngsters squandering the Torah traditions, and hard-won achievements of parents and grandparents. Again, the only solution is to recapture the excitement of learning and practicing Torah and mitzvos. Only then will the next generation view the Torah as their portion, given to them by Hashem today, now.
The difficulties we face and overcome now presage a pleasant future with Hashem's precious gifts of Torah, Eretz Yisrael, and, ultimately, olam habba.