by Rabbi Yaakov Menken
"And Moshe said to Aaron, 'this is what G-d has spoken, saying "among my
dear ones will I be sanctified..."'" [10:3]
Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki quotes the Talmud (Zevachim 115b): "Where did HaShem
say this? 'And I will set a meeting there with the Children of Israel, and
I will be sanctified through my honor.' [Exodus 29:43] Do not pronounce the
word as 'my honor' but 'my honored ones.' Moshe said to Aaron, 'Aaron, my
brother, I knew that the Tabernacle would be sanctified through those close
to HaShem. And I thought it would be either you or me. Now I see that they
were greater than we are.'"
How do we understand this? Moshe said "I thought it would be either you or
me." "I thought we were the greatest, the closest to G-d, and now I see
we're second best." Is this the same Moshe about whom G-d Himself said,
"And the man, Moshe, was exceedingly humble, more than any man on the face
of the earth?" [Numbers 11:3]
Rabbi Leib Chasman, in his book Ohr Yahel, asks the question this way: "if
a human king were to announce that he planned to honor and offer tribute to
one of his greatest ministers, and one minister were to loudly announce
that it appeared that the king was thinking about him, would be not be
considered tremendously haughty by his colleagues? If so, how could Moshe
say 'I thought it would be either you or me?'" After reading the Megillah
on Purim, as uncomfortable as it might be to mention both men in the same
breath - doesn't this sound like Haman rather than Moshe? Could Moshe say
such a thing?
Absolutely. And understanding why this is so may help us to pursue the
advice of Maimonides, who said [as we mentioned two weeks ago] that unlike
all other character traits, when it comes to humility we too should strive
for the extreme.
Rabbi Chasman offers a comparison to a porter, carrying a large burden.
Does the porter begin to think that the entire burden is his? Of course
not! So we must think of wisdom, intelligence, and other traits in the same
A humble person is not one who does not comprehend her own value or
potential - that's a fool. Rather, explains Rabbi Chasman, a humble person
recognizes that everything she has is a gift from G-d! And even more, the
greater the recognition of her positive traits, and the recognition that
all this comes through the kindness of Heaven, the greater the resulting
humility. She recognizes all she has, and simultaneously that she is
absolutely nothing without G-d's constant assistance and kindness - none of
this is genuinely hers.
With this outlook, we can understand the Talmudic passage [Sotah] in which
a teacher says: "Since Rebbe [Rabbi Yehudah the Prince, compiler of the
Mishnah] passed away, humility and fear of sin have been lost." And Rabbi
Yosef responds: "don't teach 'humility,' for I am here." Again, how can
someone call himself humble? Isn't this something we say as a joke? Isn't
it inherently contradictory?
If we understand humility as a recognition that positive traits are
acquired only through G-d's help and kindness, rather than inherently ours,
then it is possible for someone - although only one who truly has achieved
the highest levels of humility - to describe himself as humble. For if this
is truly so, then he will regard this as if he is talking about his
friend's traits, rather than his own, for all the praise is not his.
Although a level such as this is a long way off, perhaps if we consider it
for a moment, we'll be better prepared to receive some good traits ourselves!
Text Copyright © 1997 Rabbi Yaakov Menken and Project Genesis,
The author is the Director of Project Genesis.