The Midrash relates that before giving the Torah, each mountain approached G-d to argue that the Torah should be given upon it. Each mountain sang its own praises—one boasted that it was tall, another that it was wide, a third that it was adorned with beautiful wildflowers.
Only one mountain remained silent and did not offer an argument for why it deserved the honor.
Yet this is the mountain G-d chose as the site of Matan Torah—to present the Torah to the Jewish people. The mountain was Sinai.
G-d chose Sinai because of its humility. By choosing the modest mountain rather than its towering neighbors, G-d wished to convey a message. To accept the Torah, humility is an essential trait. One cannot serve G-d with ego and pride.
However, if G-d wanted to get this message across, then why give the Torah on a mountain altogether? Why not give it in a valley? Wouldn’t this convey the message even more forcefully, that G-d wants humility and not pride?
The message lies in the confluence of the two concepts. The Torah was given on Mount Sinai. This teaches us how mitzvoth must be fulfilled.
Mount Sinai was a mountain, to be sure. When doing mitzvoth, we must be firm and strong like a mountain. We must have pride in our traditions and our special relationship with G-d, and not be intimidated by any ridicule or criticism. This is the only way we will be able to overcome all challenges and obstacles to fulfilling mitzvoth.
On the other hand, Sinai was a humble mountain. This symbolized a lack of egotism, a sublimation of one’s desires to fulfill the will of G-d. Only through this trait can one fully embrace the Torah. As the prayer goes, “Let my soul be as dust to all; open my heart to your Torah.” Only by a complete lack of ego can one’s heart open fully to embrace the words of Torah.
Firmness and strength do not contradict humility! To receive the Torah, both traits must live side-by-side.
We must take pride in the fact that we are Jews, and keep all the mitzvoth without compromise. At the same time we must fulfill all mitzvoth with a sense of acceptance.
We find a similar concept regarding the generation that will finally greet Moshiach. On the one hand, this generation is spiritually lower than all the generations that preceded us. On the other hand, we will merit the revelation of Moshiach, something that eluded our holy ancestors. The explanation is given by a parable of a “midget standing on giant’s shoulders.” We are standing on the shoulders of the accomplishments of the previous generations.
This should humble us and give us the perspective to realize how we would never have reached the point where we are now without their help. On the other hand, we must have the full strength and pride of knowing that we are on the threshold of Redemption, and our final good deeds will finally tip the balance and bring the complete Redemption.
(based on an address by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Likutei Sichos vol. 1, p. 276-78)