OU Torah Insights Project
How is it, then, that it took no more than three days following their departure from Sinai for corruption to set in? As the verse states, "And they journeyed from G-ds mountain three days....And the nation were as murmurers, speaking evil in the ears of the Lord."
The sin of the Golden Calf, which took place at Sinai itself, may have involved a subtle theological error, as some commentators urge. But how we are to understand their "murmuring" and evil speechthat seems to be plain bad behavior.
How did the spiritual high of Sinai evaporate so rapidly?
One explanation may rest on a distinction between two forms of love, which I shall call external love and internal love.
External love strikes from without. Powerful circumstances ensnare a person, leading him or her to fall in love. These circumstances can be superficial, such as great beauty or charm, or they can be deeper personality traits. But in either case, the effect is immediate and powerfulthe person is smitten overwhelmingly with love.
The second form of love is internal. Internal love grows slowly, over time, as two persons get to know each other. As time goes by, they increasingly appreciate each others strengths, and each new phase of the relationship calls forth a different, deeper, response. Their love grows incrementally.
Internal love is based on increased knowledge and understanding of the other. It is also internalized through the daily routines of a life together, from making a morning cup of coffee to putting the toothpaste cap back on.
These two forms of love may characterize not only interpersonal relationships, but also the relationship between humans and G-d.
G-ds presence at Sinai was so overwhelming to Benei Yisrael, that they were captured by love for Him.
But this was only an external form of love, a spiritual high not yet integrated into their lives. They had not yet painstakingly worked to deepen their understanding of G-d, nor had they taken the many steps necessary to integrate that spiritual insight into the daily routines of their lives.
Therefore, three days into their journey, the spiritual high evaporated in the desert sun.
Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, in his Kedushas Levi, explains that great spiritual achievements must be captured in restraint, or they vanish. Hashem wanted Benei Yisrael to control their passion at the mountain, and to therebyparadoxicallysustain it.
The Torah is not only about spiritual insight and passion, but alsoperhaps even more soabout internalizing and integrating that spirituality through the routines and disciplines of a commanded life.
The experience at Sinai was G-ds voice; but what G-d spoke was the language of law. Law without the experience of G-ds voice is empty; the experience of G-ds voice without the Law is evanescent.
On Shavuos we celebrate both.
Rabbi Moshe Sokol
Rabbi Sokol is rabbi of the Yavneh Minyan of Flatbush in Brooklyn, New York.