The parshah starts with discussing the laws of Shemitah — the Sabbatical year — and incidentally tells us that Hashem conveyed this to Moshebehar Sinai” — “on Mount Sinai.” Rashi explains that this is to teach us that just as the commandment of Shemitah was given with its details at Mount Sinai, likewise, all commandments and their respective details are of Sinaitic origin as well.

Since the parshah reveals this important aspect about Mount Sinai, and the name of the parshah is Behar, which means “on the mountain” it is timely and apropos to discuss the reason why this mountain was selected as the site of the Revelation and the lesson to be derived.

The Midrash relates that the great mountains of the world all vied to be chosen as the site where Hashem would give the Torah to B’nei Yisrael. Nevertheless, Hashem selected the smallest of the all the mountains, Mount Sinai, teaching us the value of humility and modesty (Midrash Tehillim 68:17).

The question arises: Mount Sinai was indeed the smallest mountain, but it was still a mountain. If the Torah was to be given on a site that symbolized humility, why not choose a plain, or better yet, a valley? A valley is certainly more “humble” than even the smallest of mountains.

Evidently, humility was not the only quality sought for the site of the Giving of the Torah, Hashem desired to give the Torah on a mountain, albeit a small one.

The Rebbe in Likkutei Sichot (vol. I, pp. 276-278) explains this as follows. The paradoxical “small mountain” symbolizes the desirable trait of humility. The tall mountains were rejected and unacceptable as the place for giving the Torah, for height symbolizes arrogance, the repugnant character flaw that disqualifies the student from achieving Torah excellence.

That the primary criterion to receive the Torah is humility is emphasized in our Shemoneh EsreiAmidah — prayers, where we precede to request for Hashem to “petach libi beTorahtecha” — “open my heart in Your Torah” — with the supplication “v’nafshi ke’afar lakol tiheye” — “let my soul be like dust before all,” — i.e. humility is a key to success and a prerequisite in Torah study.

At the same time, we must be confident and proud of our observance of Hashem’s will. As the Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim, begins, “Do not be ashamed in the face of mockers.” I.e., a Jew must be confident and determined in his observance of the Torah, not fazed in the slightest by scorn or adversity.

The Torah was therefore given on Mount Sinai, the smallest of the mountains, but not on a plain or in a valley, to teach us that both pride and humility are needed in order to receive and implement the Torah: we must view ourselves with humility, while being staunchly proud of our Torah lifestyle and mitzvah observance.

My dear Bar Mitzvah, you have now become a full-fledged member of Moshe Rabbeinu’s people. Please, at all times bear in mind this message: Be humble and modest, but also be extremely proud of your Jewish heritage and Torah observance.

Practice the lifestyle of King Yehoshafat of whom it is said: “Vayigbah libo bedarkei Hashem” — “And his heart was lifted up in the ways of G‑d” (II Chronicles 17:6). Though he did not permit himself to be impressed by his great wealth and honor, he was proud of the fact that he walked in the path of Hashem.


The first pasuk of the parshah begins with the words “Hashem spoke to Moshe on Mount Sinai.” After this introduction the Torah continues at length about the laws of Shemitah and Yovel — the Sabbatical and Jubilee years.

Rashi asks his well known question “Mah inyan Shemitah eitzel Har Sinai” — “What is the matter of Shemitah next to Sinai,” i.e., why does the Torah say “on Mount Sinai” specifically in the context of the laws of Shemitah as opposed to the other laws? Were not all the commandments stated at Sinai?

Many different answers have been given to Rashi’s question. It is not my intention to dwell on the various answers; rather, I would like to offer a different meaning to the question, “What is the relation with Sinai and Shemitah”?

Sinai to the Jewish people represents Torah study and observance of mitzvot. This is a detailed decorum for the Jew to follow twenty four hours of the day, seven days a week and throughout his entire lifespan. On the other hand, Shemitah represents the concept of a vacation.

The question thus is, “Mah inyan Shemitah eitzel Har Sinai” — the two concepts seem to be diametrically opposed to each, how — why are these two opposite juxtaposed?

The answer is that the purpose of Shemitah was not idle time to spend leisurely doing nothing constructive. On the contrary, it was a time for taking a break from the normal work load and focusing on one’s relationship with Hashem, Torah and mitzvot.

The juxtaposition of the two emphasizes that there is never a vacation from Torah and mitzvot. Moreover, even when one affords the body a well deserved vacation from its mundane laborious activities, Torah and mitzvot are not on vacation but should be meticulously observed.

My dear Bar Mitzvah, for the next couple of years your major preoccupation will be learning Torah. However, it is imperative to remember that even in your free time, when you play, eat or sleep, it must be noticeable that a Chassid is playing, a Chassid is eating and a Chassid is sleeping.

Let me relate an incident that took place many years ago at the Lubavitcher Yeshiva in Brooklyn, New York. The yeshiva was then located in its building on the corner of Bedford Avenue and Dean Street. It was a huge magnificent building that once was the Republican Party headquarters in Brooklyn. The building had many amenities. One was a very large basketball court on the fourth floor. The students enjoyed using it immensely, and from time to time students from other yeshivot came there to play against our students.

Once while such a game was taking place, the Mashgiach Ruchin, Rabbi Eliyahu Moshe Liss ע"ה (my stepfather) happened to visit the gym. Our boys were running around with their tzitzit flying in the air. The visiting yeshiva students were wearing shorts and no tzitzit. Rabbi Liss immediately stopped the game and told them “In Lubavitch we are Yidden also on the basketball court, and if you want to play here, you must put on tzitzit.” They were shocked to hear it — but complied.

Hopefully you will be a devout Jew 24/7 throughout all your life, and proudly manifest your religious convictions and observance of Torah and mitzvot.