On Simchat Torah it’s appropriate to ask a basic question that our sages, throughout the ages, have ignored: Why did the Almighty wait so long to hand us the Book of Books, the Torah?
A legend — not a Midrash, just a legend told by kibitzers sitting around the JCC pool — explains the delay.
The angels cast a unanimous vote for the Almighty to lay the Torah at the foot of the Tree of Knowledge that first week in Eden. They suggested that He prop it up against the trunk so the world’s first newlyweds, dizzy with the world’s first love affair, couldn’t miss it.
They were wary of man. “He’s dangerous,” they advised the Creator. “At first, he’ll use a stick to walk. Next, he’ll use it to knock fruit out of the trees. Then he’ll sharpen one end of it and throw it at his fellow creatures. You have made him with the reproductive glands of the desert hare, the ferocity of the tiger and the acquisitiveness of the honeybee. But the hare is gentle, the tiger is lazy, and the honeybee is small. They will never desecrate your creation. But man is different. He needs restraints. He needs Torah now.”
The Lord replied: “Humanity is not programmed like the animals. I have given this breed a soul, and I’ve given them the blessing and curse of free will. We shall see what we shall see.”
The Lord looked down on the paradise He had built on Earth. He saw the incredible variation of plants and creatures. He saw Adam and Eve, the newlyweds, as gentle as the fruit-eating orangutans. So the Lord rested.
The angels chattered among themselves like the blue jays in the garden. “He shouldn’t have rested before He made Torah.”
“Yeah,” said one little fellow with fluffy wings. “Wait until he gets a load of Cain.”
The next day — a day of heaven is many generations on Earth, you know — the Lord inspected His universe. He saw the first act of disobedience in the garden, and He saw Cain’s murderous rage. He saw the generations who displayed all the faults of the desert hare and the honeybee with none of their virtues.
“Earth was corrupt in His sight,” as He was later to note in Genesis Chapter 5, Verse 11.
So He sent the flood. “That’ll do it,” He told the angels. “Such power will make man fear me. They will flock to me like the gentle dove. Just watch their improvement.”
“They need the Torah,” mumbled the angelic court.
“No,” He said.
Then came the generations of the patriarchs; G-d-fearing men but imperfect. With hesitancy and a sigh, the Master Builder peeped between His fingers at the strange animal with a soul called man just in time to see the sons of Jacob betray their father and their brother Joseph.
“Now!” said the angels.
“No,” said the Lord. “Did I not make them in My likeness? And unlike the animals, did I not give them freedom, even unto sin?”
Soon, the descendants of Abraham were slaves in Egypt, and their wailing drifted up to heaven itself and the ears of their Creator.
Ah, another opportunity to demonstrate My power to this unruly species, He thought. He delivered his people from the whips and clubs of the Egyptians. Later, He was to tell the whole story in Exodus.
Strengthened by His might, they strode out of Egypt as free men, but no sooner had they struck off their chains than they assumed the characteristics of the lustful hare, the savage tiger and the acquisitive honeybee.
The Lord threw up His hands in despair.
“They need a rulebook,” He announced to the heavenly hosts, who modestly nodded. “They need limits on their freedom like the planets need an orbit, like the river needs a bank.”
And the Lord took the ex-slaves to Sinai, where He spoke to Moses and gave him the Torah like a father gives a son a prayer book on his bar mitzvah day. The slaves were now accountable.
As I said, it’s only a legend. Ask your rabbi. But if he laughs at your legend, ask him for his explanation.