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    Eager or reluctant?

    There are two views about the giving of the Torah.

    One view says that the Israelites accepted the Torah willingly when they said Na’aseh v’nishma, “We will obey and we will hearken” (Ex. 24:7).

    The other view argues that the people were reluctant; therefore God upended the mountain over them and said, “If you accept the Torah, all will be well, but if you refuse, sham t’heh k’vurat’chem, ‘there your graves will be'”.

    According to another version God said, “If you accept the Torah, you will survive, but if not, I will turn the world back to chaos, tohu vavohu” (Shabbat 88a; Rashi to Ex. 19:17).

    Which view is correct? Were the people eager – or reluctant?

    The answer is probably, “Both!”

    The odds are that they were ambivalent. One group were prepared to go ahead and make a commitment, whilst others held back and said, “Don’t rush in – are you sure you’re doing the right thing?”

    Arrival at the Red Sea produced the same dilemma; one group advocated a bold commitment – “Let’s stride into the water” – whilst another counselled caution and prudence – “Let’s wait and see!”

    Human experience often oscillates between “yes” and “maybe”. God’s threat to bury the people alive if they did not accept the Torah, or alternatively to turn the world back to chaos, was a necessary shake-up for our ancestors.

    It’s no less relevant to our age of confusion and uncertainty.

    Full commitment frightens some people, but holding back and refusing to act can be a worse option and threaten our very survival and the future of our civilisation.

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