When Moses went up the mountain to receive the Commandments written in stone by G-d the Israelites impatiently waited below. Based on their miscalculation of time Moses seemed to delay in returning and the people panicked. Before Moses came down from Mt. Sinai G-d told him that the Jewish people have created an idol—a golden calf. But Moses wasn’t alarmed; he was determined to bring the Jewish people the commandments, nonetheless. But, as he descended the mountain and saw the Jewish people dancing and singing around the golden calf, he suddenly threw the Tablets down and broke them. Why? Why did he lose his determination? The answer is that G-d told him about the golden calf, but G-d did not tell him that the people were dancing and singing.
Moses may have imagined the people sitting beside the golden calf, crying, because they had lost hope in their leader returning. Surely, they would rejoice as soon as they saw him! Instead, they were happy with a golden calf. Its one thing to make a mistake in a moment of despair, it’s another thing to be happy about it.
Incredulously, Moses recognized that if the people could be happy with a golden calf, they could not have comprehended the great gift that he was about to bring them from G-d. The Talmud further explains that as Moses came down the mountain, his incredulity and horror rising at the scene before him, the letters flew off the tablets. When that happened, the tablets became so heavy that Moses couldn’t hold them any longer. When the tablets lost their meaning they became lifeless rock.
So it is with the Torah. When it ceases to be the Book of Life then it becomes dead weight—just a heavy burden. When the meaning and the taste of Torah are lost, then there is no love for it and no joy in living it. When a person whom you love asks you for a favor, it is easy to do it, it’s a pleasure. But when you don’t like the person, the favor can be the hardest thing in the world because there are no good feelings surrounding it.
Moses realized that the people were really not ready for the Torah. They would have never made a golden calf and certainly would not have rejoiced over it had they really internalized the understanding of what they were waiting to receive.
Imagine somebody suggests to you that you should tell your spouse “I love you” three times a day. Sounds like a great idea. You wake up in the morning and start rushing off to work. “Oh, my gosh!” You hurry back and say, “Honey, I love you. See you later.”
You’re having a busy day, lots of big deals in the make, and it’s now two o’clock—oh, no! You call up your wife and say, “Hey, sweetheart, it’s me. I love you. I’ll call you later.”
You get home exhausted, fall asleep on the couch and—oh, no—it’s two o’clock in the morning! You panic, run to the bedroom: “Oh, honey, honey, wake up!”
“What is it?” she asks with alarm.
“I love you, goodnight.”
So what would happen if that kind of behavior went on and on? Would it keep you ever mindful of your loved ones presence and significance in your life? Or would it become a burdensome obligation? Is it a good idea to tell your spouse “I love you” three times a day, or is it a bad idea?
The answer to that question is up to you. The intentions that you put into it are what you’d get out of it. If a person says “I love you” with no meaning, no feeling and no understanding, then those words will get in the way of the relationship. But it is a truly great idea to tell your spouse regularly that you love him or her. You just have to put a little something into it—a little consciousness and understanding.
The same thing goes for a living the commandments. The Torah gives us ways of connecting to G-d and each other, spiritual strategies for living a more complete, meaningful and enlightened life, but we have to have put a little soul into it. I can have a powerful lamp, but if I don’t know how to plug it in, it’s not going to turn on.