The Torah often feels like a repetitive document. We’ve heard it before (literally). We know where it is headed. We hear every year about the same mistakes and about the same solutions. The same events, and it’s frustrating.
This week is a case in point; the Jews arrive at Mount Sinai. They receive the Torah. But we know what will happen next. They’ll win with the golden calf. The tablets will be broken. And they will have to start over. Rinse and repeat. The midrash only strengthens this point. It explains that the revelation at Mount Sinai was just the beginning of a course of events which resulted in the breaking of the tablets. They’re not discreet. They’re both part of the story of the revelation. This begs the question, how can we read the same stories over and over again, knowing that the mistakes that will be made are dire. And why do we celebrate the receiving of the Torah knowing how fundamentally flawed its reception by the Jewish people was?
We can answer these questions in many ways. We can say that the initial acceptance of the Torah was necessary to get us to a more perfect state. Sure, on its own it was a failure, but it was still a necessary precondition. We celebrate it because of what it eventually allowed.
We could alternately say that the failure was not total. Something was left after the sin and its consequences. The Torah had still been given and could not be taken back. History does not reverse. And parties' success is still worth celebrating.
These solutions are both true, however there is perhaps something more primal at play here. Yes, we know the end, but they didn’t. When they accepted the Torah, they did so full of vim and vigour, consumed by verve and joy to be transcending the previous state that the Jewish people found themselves in. A terrible series of mistakes are coming. And that should not be discounted. However, they didn’t know that and it wasn’t inevitable. We can live in the moment with those people and learn from their profound and total acceptance of the Torah. Of course, we know they are flawed. We know their mistakes. So our reliving of their experience is tinged by our own historical awareness. However, nevertheless reading about the giving of the Torah is a chance to live in the moment, as they did, however fleetingly. We could all use that sometimes.