Chapter Two: The Cow (Al Baqara)
Chapter 2, Verse 63
Remember when We took your pledge, and made the mountain tower high above you, and said, ‘Hold fast to what We have given you and bear its contents in mind, so that you may be conscious of God.’ (Chapter 2: Verse 63)
This verse informs us about the pledge God took from the children of Israel. It is worth noting that when God addresses the children of Israel in the Quran, He addresses them directly often in the present tense. Was it the Jewish people of our time, or of the time of prophet Muhammad who took this covenant with God? Clearly, it was the people of Moses who did. So why would God address all the followers of Judaism directly? in other words why does the Quran say: 'remember when you,' or 'We took your pledge'? This is because God's favors and obligations extend to the Jewish people of all time. It is the duty of every father to convey the message of faith to the next generation. Allah is reminding the Israelites of His favor when He destroyed Pharaoh and saved them from death. If He did not save their forefathers, then they would not have existed today. In fact, every favor blessed upon the people of Moses is a favor upon the Jewish people from that moment on. Here is another example: ‘when Moses asked for water for his people’. This is a great favor to all the Children of Israel, because if God did not save the people of Moses from thirst, then all the future generations would have not come into existence.
Let's apply this concept to the verse under discussion. God took a pledge from the people of Moses in order protect their faith. If this covenant was not made, then God's teachings would have been lost for all generations to come.
The verse continues ' and made the mountain tower high above you'. The story begins right after God saved the Israelites from Pharaoh. Prophet Moses went to his Lord's appointment at Mount Sinai to receive the Torah. When he returned he was shocked and angered to see his people worshipping a golden calf. After the Israelites repented and received God's mercy, they started complaining about the religious duties God prescribed them in the Torah and on the slates. Some wanted to reject God's teachings all together, while other wanted to pick and choose what to follow.
God has the perfect knowledge of His creation. Not only does He prescribe what is best for us, but He also prescribes what is well within our abilities. The Israelites claimed that God had burdened them with what was beyond their ability. Allah explains:
God does not burden any soul with more than it can bear: each gains whatever good it has done, and suffers its bad- (02:286)
Some people misinterpret this verse for their own benefit. They think that it is up to them to decide what they can bear and what they are not able to do. When they are faced with a religious obligation that they like, they do it. When they are faced with a religious duty that is tuff, or inconvenient, they say we are not obligated to do it because 'God does not burden any soul with more than it can bear.' In other words, they want to be the judges of which of God’s commands applies to them.
The truth is exactly the opposite, Allah is the best judge and has absolute knowledge of what you and I are able to do. So, when Allah assigns a duty to you, then rest assured that it is well within your ability because ' God does not burden any soul with more than it can bear'
Do not excuse yourself from God’s teachings arguing that times have changed. In this modern and fast paced world, you may tell yourself that you are too busy to do so and so……After all, people’s lives at the time of Prophet Muhammad were much simpler, and there was plenty of time to do all the religious duties. Keep in mind that these duties have been assigned by Allah. He is well aware of what all generations from the time of Adam till the day of judgment are capable of doing. Don't you personally know people that fulfill all their religious obligations and do much more? Don't you know people today who are busy, yet find time to pray the obligatory prayers, and then add many more? There are those who go to Hajj many times, and those who connect with God a good part of each night. Thus, the obligations God assigned you are all well within your ability and can be easily done if you have the right frame of mind.
This brings us back to the verse. When God raised Mount Toor above the heads of the Children of Israel, it was out of mercy. How can that be, you may ask? Think about a medical doctor who uses a surgical knife to cut and remove pus from his patient’s body. The body cannot be cured without the use of a sharp knife. Similarly, when God wanted to show His mercy and compassion for the Israelites, He compelled them to obey by raising the mountain above their heads forcing them to accept His teachings as a whole.
Here you may ask: doesn't the Quran say 'There is no compulsion in religion: true guidance has become distinct from error,' and in another verse God says: ' Say, ‘Now the truth has come from your Lord: let those who wish to believe in it do so, and let those who wish to reject it do so.’? Then how come God coerced the Jews to carry out duties and obligation while these verses clearly say that there shall be no compulsion?
We answer that God does not force you into any belief or obligation. He lays out for you the choice between faith, with all its obligations, and all the great rewards in the hereafter, and between disbelief, temporary freedom from obligation, and the grave consequences on judgment day. You have the freedom of choice. However, if you choose faith, then you must accept all the obligations that come with it. In other words, if you choose God's path, you cannot say that I want to do such and such, but I do not want to do this or that. Faith comes as one complete package.
Similarly, God gave Moses' people the freedom of choice. However, when they chose to worship God, they had to accept all the obligations that came with this choice. In fact, many nations before them were given the choice between obedience and disobedience, and when they disobeyed and denied faith they were destroyed. When the Israelites saw the mountain raised above their heads, they fell in prostration, pledged faith and were saved from destruction.
This event is mentioned in other verses of the Noble book:
When We uprooted the mountain, lifting it above them like a canopy, and they thought it was about to fall on them, We said, ‘Hold fast to what We have given you, and remember what it contains, so that you may remain conscious of God.’ (7:171)
The command ‘Hold fast to what We have given you and bear its contents in mind' means that you are not supposed to take God's teachings lightly. Normally, people pay attention to whatever benefits them and take it seriously, while discarding the rest. God’s teachings are the most valuable and beneficial matters to us in this world and the next. Thus we should take them seriously and act with determination. Only when you and I carry all our affairs with God in mine, and keep the teaching of the Quran foremost in our minds, that we may reap the great rewards of Our Lord.