In Shemot 19:7 Moshe summons the elders and relays God's commands, and then in the next verse it says that all the people responded:

וַיָּבֹא משֶׁה וַיִּקְרָא לְזִקְנֵי הָעָם וַיָּשֶׂם לִפְנֵיהֶם אֵת כָּל הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה אֲשֶׁר צִוָּהוּ יְהוָֹה:
וַיַּעֲנוּ כָל הָעָם יַחְדָּו וַיֹּאמְרוּ כֹּל אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר יְהוָֹה נַעֲשֶׂה וַיָּשֶׁב משֶׁה אֶת דִּבְרֵי הָעָם אֶל יְהוָֹה:

Moses came and summoned the elders of Israel and placed before them all these words that the Lord had commanded him.
And all the people replied in unison and said, "All that the Lord has spoken we shall do!" and Moses took the words of the people back to the Lord.

I'm trying to understand who responded. I think that usually כָל הָעָם (all the people) means all the people, but here Moshe has only summoned the elders. So does the "all" here mean the elders, perhaps answering on behalf of all the people? Or was there a gap between the verses in which the elders relay the message to the people and gain their ascent, which nonetheless happens in unison? Or was this said in front of everybody -- Moshe summoned the elders to him but this was in the hearing of everybody and they jumped in to respond?

Rashi doesn't say anything about this point, nor did any of the chumashim we had at the table at torah study this morning where this question came up.

I'm not asking about נַעֲשֶׂה וְנִשְׁמָע a few chapters later, but specifically about the exchange before matan torah.

1 Answer 1


The M'chilta (Masechta d'BaChodesh §2) indicates that "all the people" in Sh'mos 19:8 refers to the entire nation:

ויבא משה ויקרא לזקני העם - מגיד שמשה חלק כבוד לזקנים... אשר צוה ה' - אף לנשים אמור. ויענו כל העם יחדו - לא ענו בחנופה ולא קבלו זה מזה אלא השוו כלם לב אחד ואמרו: כל אשר דבר ה' נעשה


"And Moshe came and called to the elders of the nation" (Sh'mos 19:7) - This indicates that Moshe extended honor to the elders. "That HaShem commanded" - that this also be said to the women. "And all the nation replied in unison" - They did not reply with obsequiousness, nor did they request permission from each other before speaking. Rather, they all equally responded together with one heart and said: "All that HaShem spoke, we will do!"

Likewise, Rabbi Eliezer in the M'chilta later on (Masechta d'BaChodesh §9, cited by Rashi on Sh'mos 20:15) indicates that "all the people" in Sh'mos 19:8 refers to the entire nation.

In his commentary on Sh'mos 19:7, the Ramban cites the interpretation of R' Sa'adya Gaon. While the Ramban is emphatic that Moshe spoke not only to the elders but to all the Jews (per Sh'mos 19:3), the Ramban says that Moshe primarily addressed the wise men and judges who had the prerogative to make decisions on behalf of Israel. However, the people of Israel did not wait for any advice or decisions from the elders. Rather, they immediately spoke up in unison and agreed to follow HaShem's commands.

The Abarbanel (commentary on Sh'mos 19:3) agrees with the explanation of the M'chilta, that Moshe focused his address to the elders to honor them. However, disagreeing with the Ramban, he specifies that Moshe spoke only in the presence of the elders, reasoning that it was impractical for Moshe to directly address the entire congregation. Thus, says the Abarbanel, Moshe instructed the elders to relate HaShem's message to the people. The people, responding enthusiastically that they would follow HaShem's commands, did not reply to the elders but rather converged on Moshe and gave their affirmation directly and en masse.

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