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by Yoel Spotts    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

"In the third month from the exodus of the Children of Israel from Egypt, on this day, they arrived at the wilderness of Sinai" (Exodus 19:1).



"In the third month from the exodus of the Children of Israel from Egypt, on this day, they arrived at the wilderness of Sinai" (Exodus 19:1).

At first glance, this verse seems quite innocuous; what can be so special about telling us when the Children of Israel arrived at Sinai? However, Rashi, an 11th-century French commentator, immediately alerts us to the fact that this verse contains more than meets the eye. Rashi points out that the Torah does not write "on that day", implying that day in the past when they arrived. Rather, it writes "on this day" seeming to indicate the actual day on which we are reading this verse. This, Rashi continues, is to teach us that the Torah should be new to us every day as on the day it was given.

If one examines the context of this verse, one finds that this lesson is very appropriately situated. As the verse states, the Jews have just arrived at Mt. Sinai and in a very short while, will receive the Torah directly from the hand of Hashem. Imagine, if you will, the scene in the camp of the Children of Israel. Cleaning, washing, bathing -- everyone is busy preparing; for they all realize that this is not just an ordinary day. The revelation at Mt. Sinai marks the single greatest event since creation. It is the climax to the plot that began with the division of light and darkness. Lightning, thunder, smoke surrounding the mountain -- the entire world cannot help but take note of this extraordinary event. The Jews at Mt. Sinai have been permitted to approach closer to the Divine Presence than any other people before or since. How could a Jew experiencing this incredible phenomenon not be captivated by the Torah and its laws? How could someone in such a state of euphoria not be overwhelmed with a feeling of passion to perform the will of the Creator?

Obviously, at this remarkable point in time, the Children of Israel feel an intense level of fascination toward the Torah they have just received. They cannot help but run to observe its laws and commandments. But what about tomorrow? What happens when the initial excitement wears off? What happens when the lightning, thunder, and special effects are forgotten? Will the Children of Israel still perform the mitzvot, commandments, with the same intensity? Indeed, it seems very unlikely. For exactly this reason, the Torah chose this specific moment to teach this critical lesson noted by Rashi. After the initial euphoria of receiving the Torah wears off, they must realize that their zeal to perform its mitzvot cannot. Thus, each day must be viewed as if the Torah was given today. By recalling that first day when they arrived at the wilderness of Sinai, the Jews can once again reach that level of exhilaration for the Torah.

If those Jews who lived just a few short days subsequent to the revelation needed to be reminded of this message, how much more so do we living today, 3000 years later, need to take this lesson to heart. It is so easy to become entrapped by routine. Pray three times a day, blessings before eating food -- these things easily become so habitual that we begin to perform them like robots instead of humans. The status quo becomes so enticing. However, this type of behavior and manner should be avoided at all costs. The dangers of mediocrity are well documented even in the non-Torah realm -- Dante reserved the hottest place in Hell for those not willing to move ahead, content with running in place. Once we begin to perform the mitzvot by rote rather than with the proper attention and concentration they deserve, the laws become lifeless and stale. Instead of serving as the inspiration for our everyday living, the commandments evolve into troublesome burdens that we soon tire of.

Thus, the Torah here enjoins us to break free from that vicious cycle. We cannot be content with the status quo. We must strive to move forward, to seek new heights in our spiritual lives. The first step in such a plan is a change in attitude. Like a little child overflowing with excitement at having just received a new toy, so too must we approach each new day with the same enthusiasm. With such a change in

outlook, the Torah and its laws take on new meaning. Instead of being roadblocks, the mitzvot now become our road maps in the highway of life. Instead of restricting us, the Torah now frees us from the clutches of mediocrity. If only we heed the message of "on this day", we too can reach the same level of fervor and zeal for the Torah as the Jews at the revelation. Just like Charlton Heston, we too can feel ourselves receiving the Torah on Mt. Sinai.


Yoel Spotts, a native Atlantan, is currently enrolled in a joint program with Ner Israel Rabbinical College and the University of Maryland, both in Baltimore.

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