The Gemara (Shabbat 88a) explains that the Jewish people at Har Sinai were forced, or compelled, to accept the Torah. In the words of the Gemara, God suspended a mountain over their heads and told them to either accept the Torah, or else Har Sinai would be their burial place.
In the opinion of Rav Acha bar Ya’akov, this coerced acceptance was fundamentally flawed and incomplete. In fact, he suggests, had this acceptance been the only time the Jews accepted the Torah, then “Moda’a Rabbah LeOraita,” meaning that anytime God would question a Jew about breaking his commitment to keep the Torah, the Jew would have a strong excuse. He could tell the Ribbono Shel Olam that he never really accepted the Torah; rather, he accepted the Torah only because he was forced to do so.
In exploring the idea that God held a mountain over Am Yisrael and coerced them to accept the Torah, one can explain that the fear and awe that Bnei Yisrael were experiencing were so overwhelmingly emotional that they could not think rationally or consider whether they did or did not want to accept the Torah. The only thing they could do was to instinctively answer, “yes we accept.”
It was for this reason that the Gemara goes on to say that “Af Al Pi Chein, Hadar Kibeluhah BiYemei Achashveirosh,” meaning that even though the original acceptance was flawed, due to the overwhelming feeling following the miracle of Purim, the Jewish people reaccepted and strengthened their commitment to the Torah. This second acceptance made the Torah fully binding for all Jews.
Rav Norman Lamm asks a very strong question on this approach. If an overwhelming emotional experience like Har Sinai could remove their ability to think rationally and make a real Kabbalah, then how would the new Kabbalat HaTorah following Purim help? After all, the Jews were in a desperate situation, and it looked like all was lost. Suddenly, “VeNahafoch Hu,” everything turned around, and Hashem saved us. Out of immense joy and relief, we agreed to accept the Torah. Although the emotions following Purim were joy and relief, as opposed to fear and awe, aren’t we faced with the same dilemma?
Rav Lamm explains that Purim played out in a much slower and hidden fashion than did Matan Torah. Each twist and turn in the Megillah could be written off as a coincidence. It is only when we take the time to think about the events of the Megillah that the hand of Hashem is revealed. This unfolding of the story prevented the Jews during the times of Mordechai and Esther from being emotionally blown away, and it enabled them to consider all options and then decide with clarity and conviction that they did want to accept the Torah.
It might be for this reason that Rav Avigdor Nebenzahl suggests that Purim’s being celebrated on the 14th of Adar, the day after the victory, illustrates that the celebration is not about the victory but the result of the victory. Following Purim, the Jews thought and considered all of their options, and only then they accepted the Torah.
Following Purim, we have a unique opportunity to reflect on the Torah and to consider the role that it plays in our own lives. Then, we will hopefully reaffirm the commitment that was made in the days of Achashveirosh and willingly accept the Torah.