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Beit Midrash Bet Midrash Ein Ayah

condensed from Ein Ayah, Shabbat 9:67

Too Basic for Free Choice

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Gemara: "They stood at the bottom of the mountain" (Shemot 19:17). This teaches that Hashem held the mountain over them like a flask and said to them: "If you accept the Torah, that is good, and if you do not, this will be your burial place."

Ein Ayah: Freedom of choice has special value in enabling the enhancement of man’s moral level. Therefore, it has special dominion in the areas to which it applies. However, the essence of a person’s set of desires is what defines him as a person. In that regard, one cannot fundamentally give any standing to freedom. We do not have freedom to desire or not desire. Desire is part of a person’s very life, and life is something that we have that is not based on our choice. What we control is how we push our desires to one side or the other, to the right or to the left. This is where the hand of choice comes into play.

If the Torah only applied to a person’s moral standing, it would make sense for it to have been given with full free will. But actually, the Torah is an expression of a person’s essence. If a person violates the Torah, he is betraying his own identity and changing his nature for the worse. It is as the pasuk says (about Adam’s sin – Bereishit Rabba 11:2): "He changed his face and was sent away" (Iyov 14:20). It is, therefore, appropriate that the Torah will be revealed in a manner that is of essence [and by necessity], in a manner that the root of desire is revealed and not the revelation of the branches of desire (i.e., what he decides given his desires).

A byproduct of this fact is that the Torah does not relate only to Israel, and it follows that Israel does not exist on its own in the world. Rather, everything is interwoven within the broad existence of everything in the world. All of existence necessitates that the Torah must exist, that it be mandated to mankind, and that Israel must accept it.

Mt. Sinai, the mountain that merited being the site of the giving of the Torah became the center of the world. This did not happen by chance, as there must be a reason that the Light of the World shone His light in a way that made Sinai so central. It thereby was saturated with the power of inclusiveness. Once all of this was decided, it became impossible to have a world in which Israel would exist without accepting the Torah. Israel’s status then was lined up to be a basis for all the centrality that developed upon the mountain. That is what is hinted at by the words, "They stood at the bottom of the mountain." Within the power of the mountain upon which Hashem descended with fire was a hidden power that was able to coerce. In this context, Hashem said: "If you accept the Torah, that is good, and if you do not, this will be your burial place." Only by accepting the Torah would Israel reveal their intrinsic existence in its true form. If not, all of existence would turn against Israel, as it would be turning against its true essence if they rejected the Torah.
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