My father is always ready with a humorous marriage joke. One that generates noticeable laughter is when he quips, “I’ve been married for forty years but it feels like two days…(pause for an “aww” from the audience)…Yom Kippur and Tisha B’Av!” Although it is satirical to equate marriage with a 25 hour self-afflicting fast, unfortunately many long-time marrieds often feel there is a bit of a truth to that joke. They reflect on their wedding in wonderment as if they were inebriated with excitement and somehow coaxed into walking to the chuppah. It’s as if they were guilty of CUI- Commitment Under the Influence.
The Jews had the same exact problem on their wedding day 3,330 years ago: Matan Torah. The Torah states (Shemos 19:17) “Moshe brought the people forth from the camp toward G-d and they stood at the bottom of the mountain.” The Gemara Shabbos 88a says that “Hashem held the mountain over the Jewish people’s heads like a cask (made for beer/alcohol) and said,‘If you accept the Torah then good, but if not, you will be buried there.’”
Why did G-d use a cask made for alcohol to coerce the Jews?
Rabbi Shimon Schwab z”l says that this Gemara conveys the emotional state of the Jews when they received the Torah. They were inundated with loving miracles from the Master of the Universe. They witnessed the plagues in Egypt, splitting of the sea, food from heaven, defeat of Amalek and countless other miracles that made them infatuated with G-d. All of those experiences compelled them to CUI- Commitment Under the Influence. Just as alcohol obfuscates one’s clarity of thought, the Jewish people were drunk on miracles. That form of commitment was superficial and would meet its challenge when the band ceased to play and the lights dimmed out. The Jews’ level of observance would diminish as their Beloved’s miracles would become more subtle and hidden in nature.
The Gemara above continues, stating, “Nonetheless the Jews re-accepted the Torah during the days of Achashverosh.” Rashi explains: “Because of their love for the miracle that was performed for them.” The miracle of Purim did not occur in a flash; it occured over a nine-year span. The Jews of Persia were in a state of darkness. There were no open miracles; all occurred through day-to-day “natural” means. Only upon reflection did the Jews realize how G-d was watching over them- carefully and lovingly. It was at that point when they deepened their commitment out of true love instead of infatuation. The Jews were ready to observe the Torah under all circumstances.
The manner of increasing our personal commitments should follow that of the Jews of Persia. Whether in the realm of marriage or in the realm of personal Torah observance, it is false to believe that the passion to our commitments was superior when we were young and things were exciting. Our wedding and good ‘ol yeshiva or seminary days were experiences of CUI- Commitment Under the Influence; it was a more superficial commitment. A deeper, longer-lasting form of commitment can only develop amidst the darkness of the mundane. We must continuously reflect upon our spouses and consider the subtle day-to-day kindness, security, concern, care, and love that they provide us. We must be intent when counting all the blessings and subtle miracles G-d bestows upon us each moment. The things that used to “Wow!” us may not seem apparent, but they still do exist beneath the surface. After all, nature is, in reality, the miracles we’ve grown accustomed to.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.