A young man who was befriended by Lubavitcher yeshivah students in France was quite taken with chassidic teachings and ways, with one exception. He was uncomfortable with the level of reverence some of his new friends showed towards the Rebbe.

The young man’s friends proposed that he travel to New York and pose his concerns to the Rebbe himself. He did so, and asked the Rebbe, “Why is it that the chassidim adore you so much?”

“I love every Jew debordement,” the Rebbe answered, using a French word for “overflowing.” “Perhaps their love for me is a reflection of my love for them.”

When love overflows its vessel,
it fills other vessels to overflowing.

Mountain Overhead

It was a wedding to remember, a union of biblical proportions.

G‑d and Israel were to be married.

The wedding procession was about to begin. “The Shechinah [Divine Presence] went out towards them [the Israelites], like a bridegroom who goes out to greet his bride . . .”1

And what a wedding procession it was:

“It came to pass on the third day when it was morning, that there were thunderclaps and lightning flashes, and a thick cloud was upon the mountain, and a very powerful blast of a shofar sounded, and the entire nation that was in the camp shuddered [bridal jitters?].”

The bride set out to meet her Beloved.

Moses brought the people out toward G‑d from the camp, and they stood at the bottom of the mountain.”

The sages of the Talmud take the words “at the bottom of the mountain” literally:

R. Avdimi ben Chama ben Chasa said: “This teaches that the Holy One, blessed be He, overturned the mountain upon them like an [inverted] cask, and said to them, ‘If you accept the Torah, good; if not, here shall be your burial.’”2


Not exactly what you’d expect to hear from a groom to his beloved bride on the way to their chupah . . .

Besides, forced marriage just doesn’t seem like the divine thing to do.

Trepidation or Trapidation?

The courtship had been brief but intense. So much had happened, and so fast. Like Cinderella, overnight the Israelites had been lifted from servitude to freedom, from rags to riches, from obscurity to renown.

Overcome by excitement, the charming maiden-of-a-nation Israel accepted G‑d’s marriage proposal. “And the people answered together and said, ‘Everything that G‑d has spoken, we shall do!’”

And then, not surprisingly, she developed cold feet.

The commitment was huge, very long-term, and all-encompassing. Part of her marital responsibilities included being the moral compass and conscience of the world. She was to be the crier of truth, the beacon of ethical light and right, the shining star of faith to direct the ship of history though its dark and turbulent voyage across many stormy seas.

There would be periods of concealment from her Beloved; she would be exiled from their home and blissful life together. She would be beaten, humiliated and ravaged by the jealous beasts of mankind, intolerant of her unwavering fidelity to G‑dliness and goodness. Persecution and then freedom would eat away at her national innards. She would be humbled and hardly recognizable at journey’s end.

Is this what she really wanted?

No wonder she balked.

But was that a reason to hold a mountain to her head?3

A Shot of Love

Here we come to a charming and illuminating chassidic insight.

In chassidic lore, the mountain is a symbol of love. Like a mountain which stands tall and protrudes above the ground, one who loves experiences an expansion of spirit and a broadening of self.

Conversely, fear is represented by a valley. Like a space carved out in the ground, fear carves out a space in the ego. When one is afraid of a person or animal, for example, his or her own sense of self is replaced or invaded by a deep sense of the other.

Fear and dread tend to dry and diminish our feelings of desire, ambition and drive; love is often credited with the reverse.

On the physical level, fright actually causes the blood vessels in many parts of the body to constrict.

Related is the contrast between gladness and sadness, respective cousins of love and fear. Happiness can actually cause physical growth and enlargement, while sadness or irritation can initiate contraction and reduction.

Consider the following anecdote, related in the Talmud, about a meeting between Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai and Vespasian:

A messenger came to Vespasian from Rome, saying: “The emperor is dead, and the notables of Rome have decided to make you head [of the state].” He had just finished putting on one boot. When he tried to put on the other, he could not. He tried to take off the first, but it would not come off. He said: “What is the meaning of this?” R. Yochanan said to him: “Do not worry: the good news has done it, as it says, ‘Good tidings make the bone fat.’ What is the remedy? Let someone whom you dislike come and pass before you, as it is written, ‘A broken spirit dries up the bones.’” He did so, and the boot went on.

Thus, according to the mystical take of a mountain, our brush with G‑d at Sinai takes on new meaning: we tangoed, not tangled, at the foot of that mountain. G‑d didn’t scare us into a relationship, He loved us into one. He dispelled our doubts and fears through an abundance of affection.

The Talmud’s choice of “an inverted cask” as a metaphor for G‑d’s mountain dangling is precise and telling. At that delicate and critical moment, in the midst of a crisis of identity, mission, and even faith, the Jewish people found themselves embraced by, and ensconced within, a virtual edifice of unconditional warmth and acceptance. Like the airtight space beneath an inverted cask, the space G‑d created for Israel at that fragile point in their relationship was vacuum-packed with tenderness and devotion.

So declare the mystics: At (or under) Sinai, G‑d injected His cherished people with an extra dose of love.

Is it any wonder then that, reciprocally, His loving bride continued on her epic walk down the aisle?

What’s in It for Me?

Recent generations have unfortunately seen an increase in those not just ready for the march to Sinai. Jewish illiteracy and lack of experience have greatly contributed to that hesitancy or lack of interest.

One way of dealing with those who are going through moments, phases or lifetimes of religious doubt or denunciation—in the throes, woes or noes of religious bridal jitters—is to wave a mountain over their heads. “If you accept the Torah, good; if not, here shall be your burial.” Burial by excommunication or disownment is still practiced by some.

More common today is the replacement of Mt. Exclusion by Mt. Guilt. The “you’re-breaking-a-link-in-the-chain-of-our-people” argument is just one common agent of guilt.

But then there’s another way. The chassidic way, as taught by the Holy Baal Shem Tov. Embrace and shower with love those who aren’t quite ready to commit themselves to a life of faith and observance. Create a space tightly packed with acceptance and laced with nonjudgmental regard.

To quote the Lubavitcher Rebbe, one of the inaugurators of Mt. Love and the creator of the Chabad House, “They should specifically be called Chabad houses, not centers, for at home one is welcome and provided for without any strings attached . . .”

And in the broader sense, if or when those we hold dear don’t live up to our expectations for them; if or when they depart from the principles and value system we worked so hard to instill in them; and even if or when they come to ridicule the things we hold sacred—in those instances more, not less, of our love is called for. And then, as the sages say,4 “As in water, face answers to face, so is the heart of a man to a man.”