Parshas Yisro:
Keeping Your Feet on the Ground
By Rabbi Yosef Landa
Shevat 5757  

The Torah, we know, was given on Mount Sinai. Our Sages discuss why Mount Sinai, in particular, was chosen. But a more fundamental question can be raised, why did HaShem choose to give the Torah on a mountain? Why did He not just give it in a fenced in level area?

Perhaps, it was to teach us the following lesson. Many people have a misconception as to the nature of a Tzaddik, a person on a high spiritual level. Their understanding is, that a Tzaddik is someone who has succeeded in the past and continues struggling to subdue his baser nature. They assume that the reason that a Tzaddik does not succumb to jealousy and other negative character traits, and is instead truly humble, loves his fellow Jew, studies Torah at every opportunity and is unassuming etc. is due to this constant struggle. The rest of us, on the other hand, are the way we are because we do not force ourselves constantly to act like a Tzaddik.

This understanding is a misconception and can lead a person down a potentially destructive path. A Tzaddik is someone who actually truly desires to benefit other people and all the other positive qualities aforementioned. He is someone who has actualized the good character traits all of us have buried within us. Surely it was a mighty struggle for the Tzaddik to change from the natural character of his childhood, to grow and change into what he is today. But now, overcoming those traits is no longer difficult or forced, rather he truly desires to do those actions, for now they come naturally. His struggle is to purify more refined desires.

Similarly, a mountain is an elevated region that is high above the ground below. Yet, those who stand upon the mountain are standing on solid ground. They're not suspended in the air. If the mountain range is large enough they may not even realize how high up they really are. (As those in the Catskill Mountains [NY] can attest to.) They may even consider the ground below to be a canyon or a deep crater and that the mountain is the normal altitude, while those at sea level will consider those on top as being elevated.

But being on a mountain at 3000 feet is surely different than being at the same height in a helicopter. While to an observer on the ground they are both 3000 ft high, there is a marked difference. The helicopter needs to constantly expend energy to whirl its propellers to prevent it from crashing, for it is not at its natural height. Those on the mountain, however, are at their true level. A Tzaddik is at a higher point on the mountain than most of us. His natural goodness is more developed and alive. His struggle is to improve himself yet further.

By giving the Torah on a mountain, HaShem teaches us this lesson. The service of G-d is similar to climbing a mountain, it is a difficult and lifelong struggle. However, as a result, we change habits and character traits so that at each accomplishment, we find it increasingly less difficult and more natural to do good. We stand on higher ground, we are elevated, and the very ground beneath us supports us. Our positive actions and good deeds become that much easier as more of what we do becomes natural.

As the Psalmist says, "Who will ascend the mountain of G-d? Who will merit to stand by His holy abode?" (Psalms 24:3)

Published and Jan 29, 1997 by the Chicago Community Kollel



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