Many living in Crown Heights remember the day well. 770, Lubavitch World Headquarters, was packed to the gills. But most of the people there were not adults. They were children of all ages.

It was Shavuos, the anniversary of the giving of the Torah. Now it is not at all unusual for children to come to shul. On the contrary, one of the more attractive things about living in a chassidic community is that almost everyone comes to shul on the holidays. But this holiday was different. Everyone, literally everyone, was there. There were infants alongside elderly men who might ordinarily pray at home.

What had happened? A few days previously, the Rebbe had held a surprise gathering and suggested a new initiative: that Jews recreate the Sinai experience. Every Jew — man, woman, and child — was present when G‑d pronounced the Ten Commandments. Our Rabbis relate that if even one Jew was missing, the Torah would not have been given.

The Rebbe had suggested that we renew our acceptance of the Torah by simulating, at least in microcosm, that experience. Let everyone gather in the synagogues to hear the reading of the Ten Commandments on the holiday.

In particular, the Rebbe placed an emphasis on the participation of the children. He cited the Midrash that relates that before G‑d gave the Torah, He asked for guarantors. Our people made several offers: the Patriarchs, the prophets, and others, but G‑d refused. And then our people said: “Our children will be our guarantors.” G‑d accepted this proposition and gave the Torah. “Therefore,” the Rebbe explained, “our children should feature prominently in our commemoration of the Sinai experience.”

And they did. Can you imagine a synagogue filled with literally hundreds of babies and children of varying ages? The din was awesome. But for the reading of the Ten Commandments, they quieted. As the reader read that passage, his voice could be heard throughout the shul.

This took place decades ago, in 5739 (1979). Every year afterwards, not only in 770, but in communities throughout the world, the experience is repeated. It allows you to appreciate how the giving of the Torah is not just a story of the past, but a present-day occurrence.

Shavuos Today

The Midrash relates that G‑d chose Mt. Sinai for the giving of the Torah because it was “the smallest of all mountains,” emphasizing the importance of humility. If so, however, one might ask: Why didn’t G‑d give the Torah on a plain or in a valley?

Implied is 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 for our acquisition of Torah.

An individual who is beset with egotism cannot connect with G‑d. As the Talmud states, “[With 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 of Torah. A person who lacks strength of character and self-esteem will be unable to overcome the many obstacles that 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 personal virtues. A positive self-image and feelings of self-esteem flow naturally from a healthy outlook on life. No one needs a reason to feel good about himself. The very fact that he exists and that G‑d created him is reason enough for one to experience self-worth.

These feelings are enhanced by our awareness of the connection to G‑d we are able to 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 personal strength.

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 mode of self-esteem.

The feeling of pride produced by a connection to G‑d is more powerful than the feeling generated by the appreciation of one’s positive virtues. Self-centered pride is limited by the finite 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, by contrast, is reinforced by G‑d’s infinity. No obstacle is able to stand in its way.

Looking to the Horizon

Shavuos, the 6th of Sivan, also shares a connection to the culmination of the initiative begun at the giving of the Torah: the era of the Redemption. Our Rabbis compare the giving of the Torah to the forging of the marriage relationship between G‑d and the Jewish people. The era of the Redemption, they explain, serves as the consummation of that bond.

This process leading from Sinai to redemption also relates to two significant events in our national history that occurred on the 6th of Sivan: the passing of King David and the passing of the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of the chassidic movement. The Jewish mystic tradition teaches us that the totality of a person’s Divine service is revealed on the day of his passing. Thus the fact that King David and the Baal Shem Tov passed away on Shavuos implies that the spiritual contributions they made share an integral bond with the theme of that day.

King David represents the epitome of Jewish monarchy. This attribute will reach consummate expression in the era of the Redemption when Mashiach will restore monarchy to Israel.

The Baal Shem Tov initiated the widespread dispersion of spiritual knowledge. His teachings represent a foretaste of the era of the Redemption when “the occupation of the entire world will be solely to know G‑d.”