You may be aware of the biblical quote: “And Moses was exceedingly humble, more than any person on the face of the earth.” It sounds nice. And PC, too.
However, let’s take a peek at the first episode of his adult life recorded in the Torah. It’s in this week’s portion:
“Now it came to pass in those days that Moses grew up, and went out to his brothers and saw their burdens, and he saw an Egyptian man striking a Hebrew man of his brothers. He turned this way and that way, and he saw that there was no man (in sight) so he struck the Egyptian and hid him in the sand.”
This certainly doesn’t look like a timid and humble fellow. Quite the contrary. He gets right into the thick of things, challenging and taking action. At the end of our parasha, as well, he boldly stands up to Pharaoh, the most powerful man on the planet, “Send out my people!” We see confidence, strength, and leadership. Where does humility come in?
True humility surely isn’t about belittling yourself, and definitely not about restricting your courage. Many people think it is about contemplating your inherent limitations and defects. Often, the end product of such (sole, repetitious) reflection borders on sadness, bitterness and inadequacy. Moses had none of this.
He also must have known that he was the holiest and smartest (and most humble) man that ever lived.
As Rabbi Joseph I. Schneersohn, the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, taught, “Just as one must be aware of one’s failings, so too must every person be aware of their good qualities.” What’s the difference between that and haughtiness? And how does awareness of your great attributes not proscribe humility?
Here is the secret: Moses was cognizant of the fact that he was gifted and extraordinarily talented. He knew, however, that he did not toil or sweat to attain those qualities. It was a gift, and a blessing. For some reason, G-d chose to give him this personality and these characteristics (and mission). He did not feel he deserved any credit. In fact, he felt that he probably hadn’t fully actualized his potential, and had his friend, neighbor, sibling been given this set of skills, they probably would have done much better.
We too, can model this thought process and constantly remind ourselves of our G-d given strengths. The result is an uplifted joyfulness and appreciation for our lot, an inspired commitment to our life’s mission, confidence to achieve.
Rabbi Mendy Alevsky co-directs with wife, Sara, the new Chabad Center at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, serving Jewish students, graduate students and faculty as well as professionals and visitors in the University Circle area.