Bamidbar 5780

May 21, 2020

Are You Humble?

The Gemora in Taanis teaches that the words of the Torah only rest upon the humble, “Just as water leaves from a high place and flows to a low place, so too the words of Torah are only retained by the humble”.

This begs the following question, how could the Torah then be given to Moshe on Har Sinai who seemingly was anything but humble? Did he not write about himself in the Torah that he is the most humble person to have lived? Can we truly call someone who boasts about his or her own strengths and talents humble? Over a thousand years later, this same question arises once more but in a different setting.

The gemora in Sotah relays of certain holy individuals who epitomized certain character traits and how upon their passing, these traits were not found [at least in their complete sense] among any other person. Of Rabbi Yehudah Hanassi it is said that upon his passing, humility and fear of sin were nullified. Upon hearing this remark, Rav Yosef told the Rabbis, “Do not say that humility has been nullified for I still exist (meaning to say that he too epitomized the trait of humility)”. How can Rav Yosef truly claim to be humble when he is seemingly showing off?

There’s a mistaken notion in the world that the concept of humility connotes worthlessness or nothingness – this could not be further from the truth.

Real humility is transcendence. To be humble means to transcend one’s inner being and become in touch and one with the Divine. To do this, one must recognize that their strengths and talents are a gift from Hashem, which must be utilized in divine service. To use them till their full potential, bearing in mind that if Hashem had bestowed these gifts upon another person, they may have accomplished and achieved more.

By Moshe writing that he was humble and by Rav Yosef proclaiming to have perfected the trait of humility, they were teaching us this very lesson. That one must acknowledge and recognize their strengths and not let them go to waste, but at the same time remember that they are a gift from Hashem. When we do this, we are then truly humble and as per the gemora’s dictum, “able to retain the words of the Torah”.

In light of the above we can now also understand why Parashas Bamidbar is always read before Shavuos. Bamidbar means “in the desert”. The Rabbis teach us that the Torah was given in a desert because a desert is a lowly barren waste-land which symbolizes humility. Paradoxically, it was specifically given on a mountain which represents might and strength. This teaches us that real humility is not achieved by the absence of a sense of ‘self’, rather it is by acknowledging it and transforming the ‘self” into the service of Hashem.

In this merit may we all celebrate this coming Shavuos in Eretz Yisroel with the coming of Moshiach.