Everybody knows that the Ten Commandments were given by G‑d on Mount Sinai. But why Mount Sinai in particular? The Midrash tells us that Mount Sinai was not the highest and most splendid mountain. In fact it is described as being the lowest of all the mountains which might have been chosen. Nonetheless, G‑d chose Mount Sinai for the Giving of the Torah in order to teach an important message: to tell us that humility is a prerequisite to the learning of Torah.

Torah comes from G‑d. When hearing an instruction from the Torah, we need the ability to listen. This is a rare quality: usually our own ego gets in the way. We hear our own ideas, not what the Torah is saying. Humility is the step beyond our ego, a mood of selflessness, which makes us receptive to the Torah. Thus we say at the end of the daily Amidah prayer "May my soul be to all as the dust - open my heart to your Torah". A Chassidic comment on this idea goes a step further. Surely, if the emphasis is on humility, why choose a mountain at all? Wouldn't the message have been more keenly felt if the Torah were given on a flat plain, or even better, in a valley?

This puzzle is explained as follows. While humility is important, there are also many occasions in Jewish life when a more determined and forceful approach is demanded. Personal self- sacrifice, steadfastness in the face of ridicule or contempt, the readiness to suffer for Judaism (as Jews in Communist Russia did for many years) are responses that are sometimes required.

It is interesting that right at the beginning of the Code of Jewish Law comes the statement "Do not be embarrassed by mockery and ridicule". If one were to waver in observance of a Jewish law simply because of the derisive criticism of others, there would soon not be much observance of Judaism left at all!

So one needs both qualities: humility and strength. The ability to listen, and also the firmness to be able to stand up against the current. Both qualities are expressed in the image of Mount Sinai.1