Monday, January 14, 2008

Proud Humility

While reading last week's parshah (Bo), I asked myself: why didn't Hashem just bring the makkot right way? Why the delay? I figured it must be in order to allow Pharoah to do teshuvah. Turns out, my artscroll confirmed my hunch. Then, since I was already unconciously mulling over the issue of timing, something hit me while I was reading in this week's parshah (B'Shlach) about the Bnai Yisrael complaining, as usual, to Moshe.

How dare we complain, I muttered. Here Hashem is continually performing open miracles, sparing us from the makkot as they befell the mitzrim. And how do we repay His mercy? Did we show gratitude? No! Rather, we put our foot in our mouths and whined to Moshe so that he entreated on our behalf. Which makes you wonder what the heck is wrong with us.

I started thinking about the trajectory of the Torah last week, as I was discussing Dinah yet again with my husband. I said that Dinah had a lot on her shoulders, being the only direct female descendant of Avraham Aveinu in her generation. As I was speaking, it occurred to me that the entire first sections of the Torah are discussing lineage in order to both set up the lessons of the Exodus, as well as demonstrate how Hashem controls everything.

The Torah begins with Hashem creating the world. Very promptly thereafter, in prime human fashion, Adam and Chava mess up and get expelled from Gan Eden. The story is repeated, in miniature, with Cain and Hevel, and Noach, and basically every generation through to Moshe. Over and over, while we had in each generation individuals who provided examples of middot to emulate and/or examples of teshuvah for inspiration, the vast majority of people evidenced an inability to serve Hashem as He wanted us to serve him, namely by following his instructions, e.g. Don't eat from that tree. Don't kill. Don't steal, etc. etc.

The Bnai Yisrael at the time of the Exodus evidence this behaviour, this imperfect servitude. But there is an interesting twist, which is why so many words are devoted to the Exodus itself. The Exodus underscores that the Bnai Yisrael were enslaved mentally. Their mentality was mitigated by 210 years of enslavement, which robbed them of their sense of self, of their awareness that they were here solely to serve Hashem. This mentality is understandable, since during those years the Bnai Yisrael lost their mental grasp of free choice, and were subjugated to the whims of their human masters. Once freed, they could not immediately shift their thoughts appropriately. Such a shift requires time.

Change is a typically a gradual, steady process, even when it is precipitated by a defining moment. That is why the Bnai Yisrael had to wander about for 40 years; it took them a full 4 decades before they could restore the necessary pride and sense of self-worth that would enable them to serve Hashem completely. Hashem wants us to have choice and choose His path. Therefore, the Bnai Yisrael had to recover the sense that they were completely human in order to serve Hashem with all of their will. After 40 years, free from the whims and demands of foreign peoples, free from being preoccupied with the will of others, and consequently completely independent both mentally as well as physically, the Bnai Yisrael were finally ready to be put to test and truly act as Hashem's people. And so, it was only then that they could enter the land and follow His ways as He intended.

Despite the existence of the State of Israel, we are still in gallus. In gallus, we are constantly exposed to alien ideologies (consumerism, capitalism, other belief systems, and so forth). These ideologies are just as powerful due to their pervasiveness as the ideology of Mitzraim that infiltrated the Bnai Yisrael and robbed the klal of their self-respect. We can therefore still learn much from this week's parshah and the mentality evidenced therein.

As Hashem's people, who exist solely to serve Him, we must retain our sense of self-worth in order to serve, as commanded, with all of our hearts, souls, and resources- physical, emotional, and spiritual. And, by retaining that pride, we can be strong enough in our sense of self that we can consequently remain humble, which is a formidable spiritual force as demonstrated by none other than Moshe Rabbeinu himself.


  1. Humility requires sincerity and honesty

  2. No one ever choked swallowing his pride.

    Through pride we are ever deceiving ourselves.

    Pride is the mask of one's own faults

    Pride relates more to our opinion of ourselves

    In general, pride is at the bottom of all great mistakes

    Pride makes us artificial and humility makes us real

    We are rarely proud when we are alone

    Pride is an admission of weakness; it secretly fears all competition and dreads all rivals

    Pride is seldom delicate; it will please itself with very mean advantages

    There is much proud humility and humble pride in the world

  3. Some people are proud of their humility

    It is pride which fills the world with so much harshness and severity

    Pride is a vice not only dreadfully mischievous in human society, but perhaps of all others, the most insuperable bar to real inward improvement.

    The seat of pride is in the heart, and only there; and if it be not there, it is neither in the look nor in the clothes

    Pride requires very costly food--its keeper's happiness

    Pride is founded not on the sense of happiness, but on the sense of power

    When pride and presumption walk before, shame and loss follow very closely

    Spiritual pride is the most dangerous and the most arrogant of all sorts of pride

  4. How great is humility? So great that the Holy One singles it out to glorify and praise it, as it is written in the Tractate of Megilla (31a). Rabbi Yochanan says: Wherever one finds the might of the Holy One, he also finds His humility.

    A person has to imitate the qualities of his Creator with all his might, in order to ascend to the highest rung and cling to humility. This will entitle him to be loved by God and people as well. When a person grasps on to the quality of humility, he will distance himself from much of the filth found in humanity, and he will hasten to the qualities of holiness, purity and abstinence, for humility is recognized through five things:
    1. He should forgive those who have wronged him and he could even go so far as to pay him, as it is written: "Do not say just as he has done to me I will do to him, I will return to the man as he has done. (Proverbs 24:29) Because of his humility, he is not concerned of the wrong that has been done to him.

    2. If trouble comes to his finances or his health, or his sons and relatives die, he will accept the judgement, and accept the decrees of the Lord with love, for this is the way of humility when one receives afflictions. This is the way Aaron behaved when his sons Nadav and Avihu died. He accepted the judgement because of his humility, and did not erupt in his personal anguish, as it is written, ..."And Aaron was silent."...

    3. If people honor him, he should not be proud, but rather he should be governed by the way of humility, and not be haughty in his heart. We have found this quality in Abraham when he honored Ephron and called him "My master a governor, a lord..." (Genesis 23:6) He even diminished himself in front of the most downtrodden as it is written, "And Abraham bowed before the people of the land..." (Ibid:12)

    4. If he is found to have a reputation for wisdom, insight, wealth, or influence with the king, or anything else that make people haughty, he should not hold himself over his friends, but rather he should be humble and modest and he should behave as he did before he was known for these things. As it is written: "If the spirit of the ruler ascends to you, do not leave your place." (Ecclesiastes 10:4) This is referring to the place you were before.

    5. If afflictions happen to you do not hesitate to do teshuva in public. Do not refuse to do so because of personal pride. We have the example of those who were in the diaspora at the time of Ezra when he rebuked them., they repented and did teshuva immediately. As it is written: "We have betrayed our God and have settled with foreign wives..." (Ezra 10:2) They repented and righted their ways.

  5. Humility is actually another facet of personal introspection, namely personal honesty. In the realm of attempting to project images of ourselves, the Torah tells us to stay true to who we are. If we aren't honest - if we overestimate ourselves - our true identity may be lost in a misguided effort to project ourselves as something different that what we really are. A star student who deludes himself of his potential as a star athlete will waste his time and energy pursuing athleticism instead of developing his mind. Ironically, those who deprecate themselves and purposely underestimate their abilities are actually committing the same error that humility was meant to prevent! Humility is about maximizing our potential, uncovering our strengths, weaknesses - ourselves - and living the most accomplished and fulfilling life that we possibly can.

  6. Humility -- true humility -- is one of the most expansive and life-enhancing of all virtues. It does not mean undervaluing yourself. It means valuing other people. It signals a certain openness to life's grandeur and the willingness to be surprised, uplifted, by goodness wherever one finds it.

    True humility is the consciousness of standing in the presence of greatness, which is why it is the virtue of prophets, those who feel most vividly the nearness of G-d.

    The Jewish concept of humility is based on the idea that life is a mission. When you send a person on a mission you have to supply him with equipment and God assigns us our talents on the basis of His assessment of the sort of tools we require to accomplish our missions. For example, a person such as Moses, whose mission is to become the greatest prophet in history, has to be supplied with a lot of very specialized spiritual equipment to enable him to succeed at his mission. But equipment is always on loan. It doesn't belong to the worker, but to the company, in this case God. It must be returned and accounted for when the job is completed.

    Each of us is really identical. Strip us of our equipment, and this includes brains, family, social position, talents, and any other conceivable asset one can think of, and none of us are superior in any way to anyone else. God hands out the missions and to Him they are all important. They must all be successfully accomplished for history to achieve its purpose. As I cannot know whether I am doing better at mine than anyone is doing at his, I have truly nothing to feel superior about. I am simply an empty vessel, filled by God as He saw fit to fill me, and all other human beings are exactly like I am, filled by God as he saw fit to fill them. None of us own any of our equipment.

  7. Humility is not cowardice or compromising. It is something that Hashem has called us to pursue. I believe that working towards a lifestyle centered around humility requires us to first acknowledge this: We are no better than anyone else. Period. You aren’t too cool to sit with that person sitting by himself at the lunch table, you aren’t too “busy” to talk to that underappreciated custodian nobody notices, you aren’t too important to pick up that piece of trash lying on the floor.

    Humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less. True humility begins when we become aware of the gifts that we possess. It manifests itself when we understand that these blessings come from Hashem. They must be shared with others in a selfless manner. We need to care and share, and make a positive contribution to Hashem’s world.

  8. Humility is living with the reality that nothing matters except doing the right thing

  9. As I read the various comments, though well written, I believe that they miss the point of the blog.

    It seems to me that the blogger is not speaking about individual pride, but rather about national pride; a national pride in its truest, purest and proper form.

    The blogger's statement reminds me of the practice of Rav Salanter, TZ"L who carried two slips of paper, one in each pocket. On one slip it quoted Avraham Avinu, "I am but dust and ash". (Vayeira,18:27) The other slip quoted Sanhedrin 37a, "Hashem made all people in the mold of Adam ha'Rishon, yet no two people look alike. Therefore, everyone must say 'the world was created for me'.

    Furthermore, in Shaarei Ho'avodoh, Rabbenu Yonoh's opening statements stress the importance of this matter: "The first gateway is for the working man [i.e. a person working on himself] to know his own worth and to recognize his good traits and his forefathers' good traits, their greatness and importance and the Creator's fondness toward them, and to always strive to bring himself to that level and to always conduct himself accordingly."

    “I know that I have the mental capacity of a thousand men. Because of that, my obligation to serve Hashem is also that of a thousand men.” Another time, after understanding a difficult teaching of the Rambam, Rav Yisroel Salanter fainted. Upon arising, he said, “If I have such talent, I have the responsibility to bring the whole world to do T'shuva.”, Rav Yisroel Salanter once said.

    Lastly, in an article in The Jewish Observer, dated Oct. 1986, by Rabbi Nosson Scherman, he quotes the great Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, TZ"L, "People destroy their children by always repeating 'Es is shver tzu a yid (it is hard to be a Jew).' No, it is not hard to be a Jew. It is beautiful and joyous to be a Jew.' Rabbi Feinstein's face glowed with pride and happiness when he said those simple words."

    And that is the point of the blog. We need to recognize our great responsibility, talents and potential as Hashem's People.

    "Proud Humility" is wonderful phrase and concept that, we, as a people must practice - it is the mind set of true nobility - "And you shall be unto Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation, Yisro 19:6 (In other words, Kehuna and Malchus). Or has Western literature would say, "Being Knights of the Round Table", proud subjects, yet, humble servants of Hashem, King of the Universe.

    In that light, may the spirit of our proud, but, humble and noble ancestors run through our blood as we wield the sword of Torah Study, Mitzvahs and Good Deeds, becoming a "A light unto the nations". Yeshayahu 42:6.

  10. As Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, zt'l said, "Hashem commanded the appointment of judges at all levels in order to present a goal for everyone; even someone who isn't blessed with the abilities of a Moshe can still aspire to be a judge over a thousand or hundred, or a least fifty or ten. Whatever level he attains, however great or humble, can then be used as a stepping stone from which to strive for even higher and higher plateaus (Darash Moshe)". We each must strive to discover how we can best utilize our talents to serve Hashem and our fellow man. A famous story is told in the name of many great Chassidic Rebbes, including Reb Zusia. He often said that after a person dies and ascends to the heavens for judgment, he is required to defend his past actions and behavior. But, he isn't asked why he wasn't as great as Moshe, as learned as Rabbi Akiba, etc. Each person has difficult capabilities and is only asked why he didn't use his G-d-given talents to the fullest -- was he as great as he could have been?!

  11. "Oh Lord, it's hard to be humble, when you're perfect in every way..."