Seeing is what the people asked for, and seeing is just what they received. God speaks, but no where does the Torah say that the people hear. Rather, they see God’s voice, an overwhelming, terrifying visual experience that words are unable to describe, and that the people are unable to sustain. They come to Moshe asking that he speak to them so that they will be able to hear. The visual revelation of the Divine they requested is simply too intense; they need to retreat from it.
God doesn’t say “I told you so,” but we can nevertheless appreciate the opportunity we missed by insisting on revelation on our own terms. As with the manna, greedy eyes that wanted more end up getting less. We’re used to relating to the ten commandments as a unit with special status, but it was only the Jewish people’s protests that stopped revelation at that point. In God’s original plan, He would have relayed all of the laws directly to the people. In fact, this remains a possibility even after changing the medium of revelation, it’s just a much more difficult one to tolerate for the people. This, perhaps, is the test Moshe refers to. Can the Jewish people rise to the challenge their own choice presents them?
The answer is no, but we can learn just as much from the tests we fail as we do from those we pass. In this case, two fundamental messages emerge from the experience of revelation. The first, that creating a covenant means allowing for the wrong decisions to be made, for the sake of the primary value of freedom of choice. But on the flipside, being given the freedom to dictate the conditions in our relationship with God doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do. A relationship to God on our own terms is the root of idolatry, a god we create in our own image. The approach to God is ideally one defined by humility, by sacrifices offered on an altar of earth.
This is my own little insight about the 929 chapter of the day, in 300 words or so. Chapter 20 was last Thursday. I’d love to hear your comments and start a conversation
What’s 929? A near-impossible challenge of consistency. A song of Jewish unity. A beautiful project worth checking out. Learn more at 929.org.il