Who Wouldn’t Want the Torah?

January 21, 2019 at 1:25 AM , , ,

“….And they stood at the bottom of the mountain….” – Shemot 19:17

וַיִּתְיַצְּבוּ בְּתַחְתִּית הָהָר – שמות יט, יז

According to the Talmud, the words “at the bottom of the mountain” mean that G-d raised Mt. Sinai over Bnei Yisrael and said to them, “If you accept the Torah, that’s great. But if not, you will be summarily buried beneath this mountain.” The Talmud concludes that this “furnished a strong disclaimer against the acceptance of the Torah” until the Jews “reaccepted” the Torah willfully after the Purim miracle, almost a thousand later (Shabbos 88a).

We know, however, that when Moshe told Bnei Yisrael that they would be given the Torah, they proclaimed, “We will fulfill and we will listen” (Shemos 24:7), willfully committing themselves to the Torah’s complete full observance!


The Talmud’s assertion that Bnei Yisrael were forced must therefore be explained not as coercion against their will, but that their willful acceptance itself was coerced. It would be unthinkable and virtually impossible for someone to refuse to accept the Torah once he recognizes and truly understands that a life of Torah observance is the ultimate goodness a person can be blessed with, and that the opposite is true of a life devoid of Torah. However, having left Egypt a mere fifty days earlier, Bnei Yisrael could not have naturally undergone such an extreme paradigm shift—from the influence of Egypt, “the shame of the earth” (Beraishis 42:9), to an appreciation of the Torah’s holy ideals. Thus, Bnei Yisrael’s willful and unconditional affirmation that they will live by the Torah was the product of them being shown from Above how a life without Torah is no life at all, but it was not an ideal that they had come to appreciate on their own.

Therefore, when the G-dly revelation at Sinai passed, Bnei Yisrael were faced with keeping their prior commitment but without the level of appreciation of the Torah’s beauty that they had been previously been exposed to. Observing the Torah now, without that inspiration, was much more difficult than at the moment of their original acceptance. “This”, says the Talmud, “furnished a strong disclaimer against the acceptance of the Torah,” until they later reaccepted it on their own initiative.

—Likkutei Sichos vol. 26, p. 424


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