Before you switch on your laser printer, read this:

A laser is a device that produces an intense beam of light of a very pure single color. This beam can be made potent enough to vaporize a diamond, and precise enough to deposit a dot of ink 1/600th of an inch across, in exact juxtaposition with tens of thousands of similar dots, to produce your office memo in 12 pt. Times New Roman (captions in 14 pt. Arial Narrow). Even more precise (and more expensive) are devices that yield a beam exact enough to perform eye surgery.

A laser beam is a beam of optical light—basically the same light produced by the flashlight you keep in the glove compartment of your car. The difference is that while the excited atoms in your flashlight bulb each emit light independently of each other and in many different wavelengths, a laser device stimulates a great number of atoms to emit their light in a single frequency and in step with each other, thereby producing a light beam of great potency and accuracy.

As a rule, people don’t like rules. We don’t like being told that a food palatable to our taste buds is unhealthy for our body. We don’t like being told that something desirous to ourselves is hurtful to another person. We don’t like being told a that a convenient habit is damaging to our environment. In other words, we don’t like being told what to do. We don’t like restrictions.

When the Children of Israel came out of Egypt, that were told that in seven weeks’ time they would be given the Torah. They were so excited that they literally counted the days. At Mount Sinai, their souls flew from their bodies in ecstasy when they heard G‑d proclaim the Ten Commandments.

On the face of it, their joy seems somewhat misplaced. After all, these were a people just emerging from several generations of slavery. The last thing they would want—one assumes—is a set of restrictions on their lives. Basically, that’s what the Torah is. Seven of the Ten Commandments are “Thou Shalt Not”s, as are 365 out of the Torah’s 613 mitzvot (the rest are “Thou Shall”s).

But the Jews wanted the Torah. The Midrash relates how G‑d went to all the nations of the world, asking them if they want a copy. “What does the Torah contain?” they asked. “Thou shalt not . . . ,” said G‑d, and was met with a no-thank-you before He could finish the sentence. The Jews, however, understood that this was no ordinary set of rules: this was a life regulator designed by the One who invented life and knows how it is best applied.

At Sinai, all the peoples of the world were given a choice. Take box A, and you get a life that expends its energies every which way, in whatever color or frequency that strikes your fancy at any given moment. It’ll even be able to do many useful things, like projecting animal shapes on the wall of a darkened room, or finding those car keys you dropped in the bushes. Take box B, and you get a life that focuses its energies on the purpose for which it was created.

Many took the flashlight. We opted for the laser.