The Midrash tells us that the other nations of the world were offered the Torah first, but each of them turned it down. Esav’s descendants refusing it when they learned of the commandment outlawing murder: Lot’s response to the Torah’s stance on immorality; Yishmael’s refusal due to the prohibition against stealing, and so on.
This Midrash begs the question: What was our hang-up? What vice or pastime were Jews willing to eschew (so admirably) in exchange for the Torah?
The Chidushei HaRim offers a beautiful insight: Before Hashem gave the Torah to the Jewish people at Sinai, He commanded them to set up fences around the mountain and to keep a distance. At the very climax of our exodus from Egypt and, arguably, the most crucial moment in our nation’s birth, we were told to keep our distance and sit tight.
This, explains the Chidushei HaRim, was as big a challenge for the Jewish people as were those other prohibitions for the nations of the world. If you’ve learned in a yeshiva, studied Jewish history, or even just been to a kiddush, you know we are not a passive bunch. A Jew’s nature is to always push forward, to grow and to advance. An entire nation of Jews standing still and waiting patiently? It sounds impossible, but we did it, because we recognized the value of the reward.
This Shavuot, remember that you have the strength to overcome your most basic instincts in order to improve your life and the world around you.