We've all heard the story before; we learnt it in Elementary School. Before Hashem gave Bnai Yisrael the Torah, he took it to all the other nations of the world and offered it to them. "Do you want the Torah?" Hashem asked them. "What's in it?" came the reply. "Well, it says you can't steal." "Nope. Sorry, but stealing is what we do best." So, Hashem took the Torah to another nation who's penchant for killing didn't allow them to take Him up on His generous offer. The another nation found a law they could not live with. And another. And another. Finally, Hashem offered the Torah to Bnai Yisrael, who replied "Na'aseh VeNishma," "We will do and we will listen," without asking for a preview of its contents.
It's a nice Midrash - one that highlights the special relationship between Hashem and Bnai Yisrael. But, there is a problem with it: The test was not a fair one. If the first nation's cultural psyche included a need to steal, then how could Hashem even begin to think that they would be interested in a set of rules that forbade it? The same can be asked for the second nation. If they couldn't live without killing, then why did Hashem even offer the Torah to them in the first place? And the kicker is that Bnai Yisrael were faced with no such problem. There is not a single Halacha in the entire Torah that runs in direct contradiction with our cultural mores! Why shouldn't the other nations today complain to Hashem that He stacked the deck against them?
The answer must be that there is a rule somewhere in the Torah that our very makeup as Jews prevents us from following. There is, and we find it in this week's Parsha. When Hashem tells Moshe how to prepare Bnai Yisrael for the receiving of the Torah, he tells him (19:12) "VeHigbalta Et HaAm Saviv," "Erect a boundary between the base of the mountain and the nation," because if Bnai Yisrael come too close to Hashem, they will die. Hashem then tells Moshe about the sanctifying, and the washing, and the three-day separation between husbands and wives. Then, only nine Pesukim later (19:21), He repeats the same instructions. Why did Hashem feel the need to repeat His warning to Bnai Yisrael?
Therein lies the test. The biggest Ta'ava that Bnai Yisrael had was to become too close to Hashem. At that time, more than anything else, all they wanted to do was to break down the barricades and storm the stronghold of Hashem; to become as close to the Shechina as possible.
It is a craving - part of our physical makeup as Jews. Coded into our genetic inheritance is the need to draw close to our Creator (see Sefer Hakuzari, chapter 1). In his Hilchot Teshuva (10:3), the Rambam explains that a Jew is obligated to love Hashem more than anything else, and should constantly be focussed on getting closer to Him.
We're all addicted to the immeasurable high that comes from the experiencing the Shechinah up close and personal. Whether being "Mechaven" a difficult Tosafot, Davening a world-class Amidah, enjoying the performance of an act of Chessed, or simply recognizing the beauty of a sunset, there is no greater rush than that of stumbling across the connection that we have with our Creator. It is like a tether, a spiritual umbilical cord that runs from our Neshamot straight to Shamayim. By simply flicking a switch we can close the circuit that carries megavolts of spiritual energy straight from Hashem into ourselves.
It is our birthright as Jews to have special access to this all-powerful force. Is it any wonder that we are addicted, that once we begin to experience this spiritual high we do whatever we can to get another dose of it? Anyone who has felt the power that this special closeness has understands how empty life would be without it.
So the test Bnai Yisrael faced was as challenging as those of the other nations. They were required to overcome their physical craving, the strongest urge they ever felt, to run to be near Hashem at the moment when he was closest to them. They had to deny themselves the spiritual fix that they had come to depend on. Since they were able to accept the Torah despite this condition, they were Zocheh to receive it.