I decided that each week (without making a vow) that I will write a Dvar Torah, just because. This week's Parasha is Yitro, famous for its containing the Ten Commandments.
According to midrash, God Himself spoke the first two Commandments (note I originally wrote "plagues" here which was an obvious slip) directly to the hearts of the Children of Israel, a change of policy that never happened before and hasn't happened since. When God said אנכי"" "anochi", an Egyptian lend-word that has the Hebrew equivilent of "אני" "ani", "I am" (as in "I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the Land of Egypt. You shall have no other gods before Me") all Israelites died. Even though God made them comfortable by using a familiar Egyptian word for their slave mentality and reminded them of His connection to them with the mighty hand and outstretched arm through which he delivered them from bondage, even their divinely elevated souls could not take the awesomeness and stand in the presence of God unsheathed, so all the souls departed many miles away and God had to twice revive them with the Dews of Resurrection. This could claim a limit on God that he cannot talk directly to the people (to paraphrase Homer Simpson, "Could God microwave a burrito so hot that even he couldn't eat it?). Or perhaps it is the people who were limited in that they could not comprehend.
Do not chastise the people for this. In fact, many of our greatest leaders weren't up for the task either. Jonah tried to flee to Tarshish when God assigned him the mission of going to Ninveh. Isaiah claimed he had unclean lips and should therefore not undertake his divine task. Jeremiah was terrified when God chose him in the womb. Even our greatest leader, the man of God himself, Moses, tried to prevent God from picking him, something which we usually chalk up to Moses' humility. Nobody's perfect.
The people were somehow superior to the prophets and even Moses in a vein. Moses and the prophets were hesitant and derelict at the beginning. The Children of Israel, even with their faults, proclaimed "נעשה ונשמע" "Naase V'Nishma", "we will do it and we shall hear it". Their desire to perform God's will was so strong that they wanted to do it even before it was assigned by God. They elevated themselves for 50 days and attained a level even above the ministering angels.
So don't fault our ancestors who were brought out of the land of Egypt. Even though they did slip up a number of times, according to our sages, there was no generation as great as theirs and we are more lawless than they were. Chaza"l say that the generations decline more and more since the generation of the Exodus. The torah highlights their faults and their heightened punishment because they are so few compared to the great things they did. Their punishment is great because they were so great. They immediately accepted upon themselves the Yolk of Heaven and the Yolk of Mitzvot before it was even required. This, Tom Brokaw, is truly the greatest generation.
Ooh, I like writing these and will try to write them more often. Please comment on this so I can get tips on writing more in the future. And now I must go as the travelling muezzin is chanting the call to Shabbos Mincha (I realize he's Muslim...). "eeeeee-yup!" (when I googled "eee yup" I got the songs of humpback whales. Hmm.)
May we all be elevated above the angels and bask in the glory of God (just please don't form a doomsday cult)