There is an oft-cited Midrash (Sifrei, Dvarim 343) describing how God offered the Torah to the other nations of the world before He gave it to the Jewish people at Mount Sinai. According to this Midrash, the first nation to whom He offered the Torah asked what was in it. When God told them about the law prohibiting stealing, they couldn’t fathom a life without theft. The next nation reacted incredulously to the prohibition of adultery; they were horrified at the idea that God would monitor people’s bedroom behavior! Another nation was unable to accept the prohibition of murder...and so on. When God asked the Jewish people if they would accept the Torah, there were no questions. They declared: “Na’aseh v’nishma” (“We will do and we will listen”).
if one understands the Midrash correctly, it sounds like the so-called
“chosen people” were God's last choice for receiving the Torah. However,
God understood that, unlike the other nations, the Israelites were
truly free to accept the Torah since they did not yet have a homeland,
they did not yet have an existing government, culture or “way of life.”
It was this freedom that God gave them when He brought them out of Egypt
into the wilderness that made the Jews more inclined to receive the
Torah. They were not chained to a pre-existing life-style and thus were
not reluctant to change themselves for the better. This is the practical
reason why the Jews were able to accept the Torah so readily.
must also bear in mind that the Israelites still remembered the
generation that had come to Egypt and those who had been enslaved. They
still claimed the spiritual heritage of Abraham & Sarah, Isaac
& Rebecca, and Jacob, Rachel & Leah.
is this heritage that we have today. On Shavuot we commemorate the day
that God gave the Torah to our ancestors. Now the choice is ours.
This Treat was originally posted on June 7, 2011.
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