Abraham described Jerusalem as a mountain

It takes great effort and patience to climb the mountain of spirituality that Jerusalem represents.

Rabbi Berel Wein

Judaism Old City of Jerusalem
Old City of Jerusalem

Much comment has been made over the centuries regarding the fact that the Torah introduces this week's reading by stating that its revelation took place at the mountain of Sinai. Rashi says that this is to emphasize that the Torah is of divine origin, which is represented in human terms by the mountain of Sinai.

There is great significance to describe and identify Godly instructions in terms of a mountain. Perhaps out of all the wonders of our natural world, great mountains inspire and influence us in the most challenging way. I have often wondered why human beings are driven to risk their lives to climb and scale mountains. After all, once one has somehow successfully reached the peak of Mount Everest then the only thing left to do is to come down again.

Climbing a mountain is just climbing a mountain. Yet we are always witness to the fact that human beings constantly climb, usually at great financial expense and mortal physical risk. There is something within us that demands that we challenge the mountain and overcome it, so to speak, by reaching its peak and asserting our most human of characteristics – curiosity, adventure, risk-taking and challenging the unknown. If that be true as it is in the natural and physical world that we inhabit, so too is it valid as an understanding of our reach for spirituality and service to the omnipotent and omniscient Creator.

All father Abraham originally described as his spiritual goal that the city of Jerusalem and its location be represented as a mountain. Even though the rabbis of the Talmud softened this view and saw Jerusalem as a house and a home, it nevertheless still retains the view of Abraham, as being a mountain. It is not easily accessible to arrive there physically or spiritually. Its terrain is difficult, and its streets are composed of hills and valleys, and ups and downs.

The physical Jerusalem is always representative of the spiritual Jerusalem that hovers above it. It takes great effort and patience to climb the mountain of spirituality that Jerusalem represents. Cloaked in the mundane problems of crowded urban living, it nevertheless retains within it the ability to connect human beings to greater heights of attitude, behavior and vision. But the playing field is not the level one. Rather it resembles a steep mountain that to be scaled and often there are great risks in doing so.

The simple fool says that just being a good person is sufficient without the ritual and paraphernalia of religion and its observance. However, the wise person realizes that it takes preparation, tools, and enormous effort to just be a good person. The observances that the Torah demands of us are themselves the tools that allow us to attempt to scale that great mountain that lies before each and every one of us. Those tools are described for us by the tradition of the mountain of Sinai.