According to the Midrash, the people had slept in, and God had to wake them up. As Rashi puts it, it was like a teacher who arrives before his class and wonders where his pupils are. The result was the now long accepted practice of Tikkun Leil Shavu’ot, staying up all night on Erev Shavu’ot to study Torah and to prepare spiritually for the festival.
Our ancestors were caught napping; we have to make up for their lapse.
True, it is not our generation that were at fault, but every generation can be guilty of failing to be ready for a spiritual experience. Shavu’ot is the most obvious symbol of this problem – after all, Jews have often failed to embrace the Torah with sufficient joy and excitement – but we are frequently unprepared for a great moment.
Our preparation for Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur is often far too perfunctory – and yet we complain that the service leaves us unmoved.
Examples of lack of readiness for prime-time experiences are not limited to the festivals. How many people, for instance, are spiritually ready for marriage, for parenthood, for retirement, even for death?