The Revelation At Mt. Sinai:
An Experience Of The Present
As Well As The Past
Receiving the Torah Anew
The Giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai is not only an event of the
Every Shavuos, and - to a lesser extent - every day, we relive
This is reflected in our praise of G-d as "the Giver of the
Torah," using the present tense,  and in the mandate of our
Sages  that we always view the Torah as "something new which
we received today."
In this light, the physical setting of the Giving of the Torah
becomes prominent, for its metaphoric significance shows us how
to approach the Torah at all times and in all places.
Mt. Sinai and its surroundings symbolize the personal qualities
that enable an individual to acquire the Torah. 
The Midrash,  relating that G-d chose Mt. Sinai for the Giving
of the Torah because it was "the smallest of all mountains,"
emphasizes the importance of humility.
If then one would ask why G-d did not give the Torah on a plain
or in a valley, the answer will be that the choice of a mountain
indicates the need for a certain degree of self-esteem.
For both these qualities - humility and self-esteem - are
necessary to our acquisition of Torah.
Synthesizing Opposing Attributes
An individual who is possessed by egotism cannot connect with
As the Talmud  states, "[In regard to] any person who
possesses haughtiness of spirit, the Holy One, blessed be He,
declares, 'I and he cannot both dwell in the world.' " In our
daily prayers, we express the link between humility and Torah
study by requesting in direct succession,  "Let my soul be as
dust to all; open my heart to Your Torah."
Nevertheless, humility alone is insufficient for the acquisition
A person who lacks strength of character and self-esteem will be
unable to overcome the many obstacles which can obstruct his way
to the observance of the Torah.
Humility and pride need not be mutually exclusive.
Pride and self-esteem do not always stem from self-concern, nor
are they always the result of an individual's perception of his
A positive self-image and feelings of self-esteem should arise
from our awareness of the connection to G-d we establish through
the Torah. The knowledge that we can fulfill G-d's will through
the observance of mitzvos is the greatest possible source of
From this perspective, the qualities of humility and pride may be
seen as complementary.
Humility encourages the development of an ever deeper connection
to G-d, which, in turn, increases the above-described kind of
The feeling of pride produced by a connection to G-d is more
powerful than the feeling generated by the appreciation of one's
Self-centered pride is limited by the scope of one's qualities
and can be dampened by a formidable individual or challenge.
The personal strength derived from a commitment to fulfill G-d's
will, however, partakes of the infinity of its objective. No
obstacle is able to stand in its way.
Humble Pride; Self-Assured Humility
The combination of these two qualities was epitomized in Moshe
On one hand, he was the leader of the Jewish people. He received
the Torah on Mt. Sinai and studied with G-d for forty days and
forty nights. He himself wrote the verse, "And there never arose
in Israel a prophet like Moshe." 
Nevertheless, he was "more humble than all the men on the face of
the earth." 
Moshe realized that all of his gifts had been given to him
by G-d. Furthermore, he believed that if these gifts had been
given to someone else, that person would have achieved more
The awareness of his great potential did not spur Moshe to
egotistic pride, neither did his humility prevent him from
appreciating and utilizing his capacities.
An Unowned Land
Mt. Sinai is situated in a desert.
Every year the relationship between the Torah and the desert
is reestablished by the reading of Parshas Bamidbar ("in the
desert") before Shavuos. 
Our Sages  point out that the desert has no owner.
By giving the Torah in the desert, G-d showed that no one person
or tribe can control it; every Jew has an equal claim to Torah.
The ownerless desert teaches us another lesson.
To approach Torah, we must reflect this ownerless state; i.e.,
we must step beyond our individual personalities. The Torah,
reflecting G-d's infinite nature, transcends our limited human
potential. In order to relate to G-d's infinity, we must leave
the confines of our personal selves. 
At Mt. Sinai, our ancestors expressed such a commitment.
When asked whether they would accept the Torah, they replied,
"We will do and we will listen." 
Instead of first listening to G-d's commandments and then
deciding whether or not to accept them, they showed no hesitation
and promised to obey them regardless of what would be entailed.
In the Face of Barrenness
A further lesson can be derived from the fact that the Torah was
given in a desert.
Not only is the desert ownerless, it is also barren and desolate.
When our ancestors received the Torah, they thus had to depend on
G-d for food, water, and clothing.
Yet far from worrying, they received the Torah with loving trust.
Indeed, their devotion serves as a source of eternal merit for
the Jewish people, as it is written,  "I have remembered for
you the kindness of your youth, the love of your bridal days,
your following after Me in the desert, in an unsown land."
There are times at which earning a livelihood is problematic,
when our surroundings may appear to us like a barren desert.
These hurdles should not, however, dampen our dedication to the
study of the Torah and the observance of its mitzvos. Instead
of giving primacy to our material concerns, we should consider
the Torah our priority, and remain confident that G-d will
provide us with our needs as He provided for our ancestors.
The Desert Can Blossom
The desert can also be understood as a metaphor for feelings of
spiritual barrenness and emptiness.
A person who experiences such feelings would do well to remind
himself that the Torah was given in a desert; that in his present
circumstances, G-d descends and gives him His most precious
possession, the Torah. No matter what an individual's state, let
him recognize that he is constantly given the opportunity to
relate to G-d through the medium of the Torah.
This concept also applies in our relations with others.
We can - and must - share Torah with all Jews, even those who
appear as barren as a desert.
Our Sages  urge us to "be counted among the disciples of
Aharon,... loving [your fellow] creatures and bringing them close
to the Torah."
In Tanya,  the Alter Rebbe explains that this wording teaches
that we must love every Jew, even one whose only redeeming
characteristic is that he is G-d's creation.
Our Sages  relate that during the Jewish people's forty years
of wandering, they were able to transform the desert into
"settled land" to the point where trees flowered and gave fruit.
Our study of Torah can produce a similar effect.
Those aspects of ourselves and of others that are seemingly
barren can become productive through the influence of Torah.
This recalls the Era of the Redemption, when even "shade trees
will be laden with fruit."  At that time, the fruits of the
Jewish people's divine service throughout the exile will blossom
forth and all of mankind will be able to appreciate that the
world is G-d's dwelling place. 
May this take place in the immediate future.
Adapted from Likkutei Sichos,
Vol. I, pp. 276-280;
Vol. VIII, p. 237
- (Back to text) The text of the third of the blessings recited before
Torah study (Siddur Tehillat HaShem, p. 10) and the
blessings recited before and after the communal Torah
reading (loc. cit., p. 70).
- (Back to text) Sifri; Rashi on Devarim 11:13.
- (Back to text) Side by side with these symbolic lessons, needless to
say, Mt. Sinai is an actual geographical site.
- (Back to text) Midrash Tehillim on Tehillim 68:17; see also Likkutei
Torah, Parshas Bamidbar 16b ff.
- (Back to text) Sotah 5a.
- (Back to text) The passage beginning Elokai netzor with which the
Shemoneh Esreh closes; see Berachos 17a.
- (Back to text) Devarim 34:10.
- (Back to text) Bamidbar 12:3. Significantly, Moshe wrote this verse too.
Just as his appreciation of his other virtues did not
lead to pride, so too was he able to remain humble
despite his awareness of his own humility. Rav Yosef
likewise (end of Tractate Sotah) was able to describe
himself as the epitome of humility.
- (Back to text) Sefer HaMaamarim 5689, p. 217 ff.
- (Back to text) The Shelah (Parshas Vayeishev) explains that even though
they are governed by seemingly separate cycles, there is
an intrinsic connection between the festivals and the
weekly Torah readings with which they coincide.
- (Back to text) Bamidbar Rabbah 19:26; Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchos
Talmud Torah 3:1.
- (Back to text) This concept is related to the synthesis of pride and
humility discussed above. As long as a person is
functioning within the limited framework of his
accustomed mindset, he cannot attain a complete synthesis
of these two opposite drives. However, when he steps
beyond himself and dedicates himself to G-d's Torah, its
infinite nature makes such a fusion possible.
- (Back to text) Shmos 24:7.
- (Back to text) Yirmeyahu 2:2
- (Back to text) Avos 1:12.
- (Back to text) Ch. 32.
- (Back to text) Bamidbar Rabbah 19:26.
- (Back to text) End of Tractate Kesubbos.
- (Back to text) Cf. Tanya, chs. 36 and 37.