Vol. 6 No. 23
From Modesty to Humility
(Based on R. Bachye's introduction to the parshah)
"The result of modesty is fear of G-d, wealth, honour and life" (Mishlei 22:4).
Shlomoh ha'Melech informs us here that modesty has many advantages. He is saying that its benefits - in this world - are fourfold: fear of G-d, wealth, honour and life. For the quality of modesty is one that is connected to one's social interaction with others. It constitutes being bashful and patient with others, respecting one's fellow man and speaking only good about him, and the ability to hear one's shame and to remain silent.
Through the medium of modesty, one rises to the fear of G-d, and merits wealth. Why is that? Because a modest person is always content with his lot, for it is well-known that a proud man is not satisfied even with the largest treasure, whereas a modest man is satisfied with whatever he has. Indeed, Chazal said 'Who is a wealthy man? One who is satisfied with his lot' (Ovos 4:1).
Modesty also leads to honour and esteem, because what is more honourable than someone who restrains himself from his desires, is modest and satisfied with whatever he has?
And it leads to life, because the person who is always looking for excesses, ends up worried and disappointed whenever he fails to attain his goal. His life is one of constant frustration - and constant worry curtails life. In fact, he is worrying over a world that is not his - for tomorrow has not yet arrived, and who knows what tomorrow will bring? Whereas someone who is content with his lot does not worry over what he has not acquired - he spares himself the frustration and lives a tranquil life.
The Medrash has a different approach to the possuk in Mishlei. One possuk writes "The heel of modesty is the fear of G-d", and another "The fear of G-d is the head (the crown) of wisdom" (Tehillim 111:10). From here we see that 'what wisdom made into a crown for its head, modesty made into a heel for the sole of its shoe'. This Medrash l interprets the word "eikev" (in our opening possuk) to mean, not 'a result', as we understood initially, but 'a heel'. And we learn from here that the character-trait of modesty is greater by far than wisdom, seeing as the fear of G-d, which is the head of wisdom, is only the heel of the foot of modesty.
It is known that every character-trait, besides having two extremes, also possesses a middle path, a medium. The characteristic of modesty, in fact, is the medium between pride and humility. By most characteristics it is the medium that is the ideal. It is the ideal that a person should develop and live. He should avoid the two extremes, which are bad and bitter. That is why elsewhere (Mishlei 4:26), Shlomoh advises that one weighs up carefully the path which one wants to go (i.e. the middle path), not to turn to the right or to the left.
The one exception to this rule is the characteristic of modesty. Because, although, as we just explained, modesty itself is the medium between pride and humility, we are nevertheless admonished to go to the extreme and to be exceedingly humble, and not to remain on the middle path. This is to keep as far away as possible from pride, the most despicable of characteristics, one which causes untold harm and drives a person, body and soul, both from life in this world, and from eternal life in the next. That is why Chazal have said 'Be very, very humble of spirit' (Ovos 4:4), repeating the word 'very' ('me'od') to indicate that this characteristic, unlike all others, should be carried to the extreme. Because the quality of modesty is a supreme one, and its advantages are tremendous and self-evident.
And that is why Dovid ha'Melech described himself as 'a broken and crushed heart' (Tehillim 51:19), in spite of the fact that he was a great king and a prophet, as well as being the wisest of the seventy elders, as he is described in Shmuel (II 22:8).
Moshe Rabeinu was the head of the prophets, yet of all the wonderful characteristics with which he was imbued, the Torah chose to describe him as 'a very modest man', adding the word 'very' to indicate that he declined to choose the middle path in this particular quality, but was modest to the extreme.
A mark of Moshe's humility was the fact that he did not want to enter the Tent of Meeting as long as it was covered by the Cloud of Glory, as the Torah writes (40:35) "And the Cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the Glory of G-d filled the Mishkon." Even though G-d had already informed him that He would meet him there and speak with him from the lid of the Oron from between the two Keruvim, he did not deign to go in of his own accord, neither to prophesy there, nor even to pray or to offer a sacrifice, until G-d gave him express permission and called him, as it is written "And He called to Moshe, and He spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting, saying ... ".
From the Cattle and From the Flocks
Of all the ten species of kosher animals (listed in Re'ei 14:4-5), why did G-d specifically single out cattle, sheep and goats exclusively, to be eligible to go in the Mizbe'ach?
Based on a possuk in Michah, the P'sikta de'Rav Kahana explains that G-d, in His mercy, deliberately precluded the other seven animals from the list, because they are wild and therefore difficult to catch. He only included those that are thoroughly domesticated, which grow up in our own domain and that are therefore easy to obtain. By doing so, He spared us the trouble of having to take to the forests and hunt the animals to bring as sacrifices.
A similar Medrash, the Chofetz Chayim points out, quotes a Heavenly Voice, which proclaimed 'Who has ever given Me anything before I have given him? Has anyone ever praised Me before I gave him a Neshomoh? Has anyone ever circumcised his son before I gave him a boy? Has anyone ever attached tzitzis before I gave him the garment?'
We can learn from these two Medrashim, explains the Chafetz Chayim, that however much one gives or donates for a mitzvah, he has nothing to boast about, since he is simply giving of what he already has. G-d did not ask of us to give Him something that we do not already own, nor even to give away something that we do not yet own on the basis that we will obtain it later. It is exactly as the Torah writes in Re'ei (14:22) "Give Ma'aser from the produce of your crops" - only from the crops that are already yours.
Always in Debt
It seems to me that the second Medrash can be understood quite differently. What the Medrash is saying is that even though G-d rewards us for the mitzvos that we perform, as if we had actually given Him something or done something for Him, the truth of the matter is that we are not really giving Him anything at all. All we are really doing is repaying Him for a kindness that He has already performed with us.
When we praise Him, we are already indebted to Him for giving us a Soul; when we perform a Bris Milah on our son - we are already indebted to Him for that son; and when we perform the mitzvah of tzitzis - for the new garment. Yet He overlooks that, rewarding us as if we were the ones to have done Him a favour.
THE AVODAS HA'KORBONOS
1. A Nedovoh
The ideal way of bringing a voluntary sacrifice was by picking the animal of one's choice (the best - like Hevel did - since, whatever one gives to G-d should always be the best), and without making any vow, taking it to the Beis ha'Mikdosh and sanctifying it there.
This (in the case of a voluntary offering) was called a 'Nedovoh', and left a person with no obligation - which, due to unforeseen circumstances, he might easily have failed to fulfill.
2. A Neder
As second best, one could designate the animal that one wished to bring, by sanctifying it immediately. This (in the case of a voluntary offering) was called a 'neder', and placed upon the owner the responsibility of making sure that it reached the Beis ha'Mikdosh, and of replacing it, should it not have done so.
3. Beis Din's Coercion
The Beis Din would ensure that the person brought his korban by taking a security from him if he delay. Should he refuse to bring it, they would even coerce him, physically if need be, to bring it - though at the end of the day, he had to bring it of his own free will.
4. The Basic Avodah
Once one arrived in the Beis ha'Mikdosh with one's sacrifice there was a basic procedure that was standard, and was followed in all cases of animal sacrifices: first of all, the owner would lean his hand on the head of his sacrifice, before he or a Kohen would shecht it. Once it was shechted, a Kohen had to receive all the blood in a bowl and take it to the south-western corner of the Mizbach ho'Oloh, which stood in the Azoroh, where he would sprinkle it on the wall of the Mizbei'ach.
Finally, the Kohen would remove all the fat-pieces and other sections specified by the Torah and place them on the burning area of the Mizbei'ach - except for the burnt-offering, which was entirely burnt.
5. The Main Avodah
The most important of all these avodos was the sprinkling of the blood ("because the blood is the Soul"). Once that was successfully completed, the subsequent procedure was not, as a rule, crucial to the avodoh.
6. Salting the Sacrifices
All sacrifices (animal and flour) had to be well-salted. The salt (unlike the oil and the frankincense of the flour-offering) was not donated together with the sacrifice, but, like the wood, it came out of public funds.
7. The Two Levels of Sanctity
There were two levels of sacrifices, 'Kodshei Kodshim' (the very holy) and 'Kodshim Kalim' (the less holy). The former comprised the burnt-offering, the sin-offering, the guilt-offering and the flour-offering; the latter, the peace and the thanks-offerings, the first-born, Ma'aser beheimah and the Pesach.
The former (with the exception of the burnt-offering) had to be eaten by male Kohanim in the courtyard of the Beis ha'Mikdosh; the latter, by anyone (as long as they were not tomei) anywhere in Yerusholayim.
THE MITZVOS OF TODAY
Adapted from the Seifer ha'Mitzvos ha'Kotzer of the Chofetz Chayim.
(The Mitzvos Asei)
74. To send away the mother-bird - if someone comes across a bird's nest on the way, and the mother is sitting on the fledgelings or on the eggs,and he wishes to take them, he must first send away the mother, as the Torah writes in Ki Seitzei (22:7) "Send away the mother" and then "take the babies for yourself".
The way to send it away is by holding it by its wings and sending it. If he sent it away and it returned, he remains obligated to send it before taking the babies or the eggs - and this is the case even if this happened many times.
If the mother is hovering over the nest, then, if its wings are touching the nest, he is obligated to send it away, but not otherwise.
The mitzvah applies only to a kosher bird, and to a bird that was not prepared i.e. he found it on the way, on a tree or on the ground, and not in a dove-cot that he had set out in advance. (Birds that fly into his yard or onto his roof are included in the mitzvah, but not if they nested in his house.)
It also applies exclusively to fledgelings that are not yet able to fly, and that still need their mother, and eggs that are still fit to hatch
Someone who transgressed the la'av and took the mother with the fledgelings or the eggs, should then fulfill the asei and send away the mother (in which case he will be absolved from malkos). The moment he negates the possibility of doing so by shechting the mother, or even if it died naturally - before he had a chance to send it away - he will be subject to malkos retroactively. And the same will aply if someone else takes the mother from him and sends it away, or if it flies away by itself - he will receive malkos because he is no longer able to fulfill the asei.
If he took the mother and clipped its wings (to prevent it from flying away) before sending it away, he receives makas mardus (malkos de'Rabbonon), after which, he is obligated to retain the bird until its wings regrow and to send it away then.
This mitzvah applies everywhere and at all times, to men and women alike.
About the Mitzvos
The Loss of a Mitzvah
The Mishnah in Pirkei Ovos (2:1) advises us to weigh up the loss of a mitzvah (e.g. in time o money) against the gain (spiritual growth and eternal reward in the World to Come, plus possible bonuses in this world); and the gain of a sin (temporary pleasure) against the loss (moral degradation and the fires of hell - which are quite literally sixty times hotter than those of this world).
It would be difficult to conceive ourselves sinning if these thoughts were clearly imprinted in our minds, nor would we have the least difficulty in spending our time and energy pursuing mitzvos. For who in his right mind, would not want eternal reward in the World to come? And who would dream of stoking the fires that will eventually burn him?
The trouble is that we think about these things at inopportune moments - when we are not on the verge of performing a mitzvah or of committing a sin. When we are, we allow other criteria (as dictated by the Yetzer ho'Ra) to play on our minds. The secret is to keep the Mishnah in Pirkei Ovos fresh in our minds, so that we can draw on it and use it when we need it most - when the temptation to sin strikes.
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