I once heard Rabbi Hershel Schacter of Yeshiva University compare the moment Hashem gave the Torah to us in a thunderous revelation on Har Sinai (Mt. Sinai) and the moment we actually received the intact tablets several months later on Yom Kippur. The origin of the 1st tablets was the grand ceremony that we celebrated on Shavuot. Yet when Moshe descends after 40 days in Heaven on the 17th of Tammuz (a tragic day that would later be known as the Fast of Tammuz), he smashes them. The tablets that would guide us through the desert, into the Land of Israel and beyond, were the 2nd set that was given b’tzina, in private, without the pomp and circumstance. The lesson I believe is that in general, it is our modesty and private actions that make a lasting difference.
Humility, meekness, and modesty are prized characteristics in our community. However, these traits can impede us at times and like all of our traits are not universally appropriate. For example, as a Career Advisor I find that many students and clients downplay their strengths when networking or interviewing. Others don’t even apply to certain roles because they lack just 1 or 2 of the items listed as preferred in the job description. So here’s an alternative perspective for those that are (considering) compiling their resumes, applying for jobs, or preparing to extol their own virtues. It derives from the popular kid’s song (loosely based on Talmud Sotah 5a and Medrash Tehillim 68:17) that describes various mountains interviewing for the eternally significant role of becoming the Chosen One through which God’s selection of Israel would become known:
Little Har Sinai just stood there and sighed, “I know I’m not tall, I’m not wide. The Torah cannot be given on me, Because I’m a plain mountain,” she said simply.
But from the mountains Hashem chose Har Sinai, Because she did not hold herself high. She had such simple and humble ways, From this we know that humbleness pays.
If teaching humility through choosing a lowly mountain was so important, why didn’t Hashem give the Torah in a valley? The Lubavitcher Rebbe ob”m taught that choosing a mountain that is lower than other mountains indicates a need for a combination of the virtue of humility and pride together; the choice of a mountain instead of a plain or a valley indicates the need for a certain degree of self-esteem. Both these qualities — humility and self-esteem — are necessary to our acquisition of Torah.
Our self-esteem must moderate our humility and at times we need to confidently shout our achievements from the mountaintop/rooftop; unfortunately no Heavenly Voice is going to emerge to do it on our behalf. While Har Sinai’s honesty is commendable, and the things she lacked were not within her control to change, we cannot expect that our own lack of virtues or failure to disclose our true qualities and achievements will get us an interview or promotion for a coveted role. Au contraire, we must identify what features we lack, work on them, accept compliments with grace, and prepare to highlight the key virtues we have so that we too become a vessel of Hashem’s presence in this world.