Shavuot: Chiddushei haRim: Two Missions
The Chiddushei haRim cites the passage in the Talmud (Shabbat 88a) which says that at the revelation of the Torah at Sinai, God raised the mountain over the heads of the assembled people of Israel and said to them, “if you accept the Torah, good and well; if not here shall be your burial place!” Tosafot asks the most obvious question: How can the Sages of the Talmud assert that Israel was cool burst into accepting the Torah when Scripture states explicitly that the response of Israel was, “We shall do and we shall obey (Exodus 24:7),” thus implying their readiness to accept the Torah on faith?
The answer he offers is that indeed, both are true; paradoxically, the Children of Israel were both coerced into their historic mission and they accepted it voluntarily. Essentially, their attitude was that given by Scripture; a warm and happy response of readiness to assume the burden of service of God. But the Sages insisted upon a note of reluctance as well, in order to teach successive generations that one must serve God not only in greatness, implied by the “we shall do and we shall obey” verse, but also in the darker moments of life when the human spirit is subdued and weary and vulnerable, this state of “smallness,” when one must force himself obstinately and relentlessly to do God’s will even while his own spirit is unresponsive. God must be served not only in the presence of Revelation, but even during the green periods when the mountain seems about to crash over our very heads. Indeed, persistence in serving God during the alienation of “smallness,” the stubborn commitment to religious performance even in the absence of any redeeming religious experience, is a sign of spiritual authenticity and heroism. Yet one must always aspire to worshiping and serving God in greatness.