I have often wondered why the Torah was given on a mountain when there appear to be several compelling reasons why it should have been given at a body of water. Just as water flows down to the lowest level, so too the Torah only resides in humble people, people who are not absorbed with their own grandeur.
Additionally, just as we cannot live without water, so, too, a Jew cannot live without Torah. Just as the world would cease to exist without water, so too the world would cease to exist without Torah. The Torah is actually compared to water. “Let all who thirst come for water,” says Yeshaya Hanavi, and the Midrash says this verse is really referring to water (Bereishis Rabbah 66:1).
Why, then, was the Torah not given next to water?
I would like you to imagine yourself for a moment standing next to a lake and then deciding to walk around its perimeter. Where would you end up? Exactly where you started.
Now picture yourself at the foot of a mountain. The mountain beckons, “Climb me, climb me” and you feel challenged to climb it. That is what Torah is all about. It’s about climbing, moving up from the horizontal plane to the vertical plane. It’s not about staying at the same level, doing mitzvos by rote in the same old manner; it’s about infusing them with greater enthusiasm, with greater joy, and with greater appreciation of Hashem who gave us the mitzvos for our benefit.
My teacher, Reb Shlomo Twersky, zt”l, once told me that someone asked him, “What is Shabbos?” to which he answered, “Which one?” In other words, if we live Shabbos with enthusiasm, the following Shabbos will be on a higher level – more spiritual, more holy.
Torah demands growth. We must fight complacency and stagnation. It is so easy to perform mitzvos by rote, without actually growing. But if we keep in mind that the Torah was given on a mountain, we will remember that the purpose of a Jew is to continually grow, to continually refine one’s character.
But to grow, we must leave our comfort zone, which can be scary. I am reminded of Yaakov Avinu’s famous dream. On his way to Charan, Yaakov dreamt about a ladder standing on the ground with its top reaching Heaven. Yaakov was afraid. He was leaving his comfort zone, leaving Eretz Yisrael, leaving his family. Would he be able to grow in exile, in wicked Lavan’s house?
So Hashem shows him a ladder with angels going up and down, conveying the message that he need not fear. He will be able to continue growing as long as he keeps the image of the ladder and the ascending angels in front of him.
And the same is true of us.