Back to This Week's Parsha| Previous Issues
Torah Attitude: Parashas Beha'aloscha: Great but humble
We can quite easily measure our levels of fear and love of G'd by how we conduct ourselves in the synagogue. "And you shall respect My sanctuary." "On the heels of humility comes fear of G'd." A person should remember that he originates from a putrid drop, that his body will end up in a place of dust, maggots and worms, and that he will have to stand in judgment and give an accounting in front of G'd. When a person contemplates the origin of his body, as well as its final destination, he will realize the insignificance of the body and its cravings. The Torah describes Moses as an extremely humble person, more humble than any other person in the world. In every generation, we find that the true Torah leaders did no excel only in their vast knowledge, but even more so in their humility. "And G'd said, 'Let us make man in Our image.'" Every person has the potential to be righteous like Moses.
Synagogue testing ground
In last week's Torah Attitude (Shavuous and Parashas Nasso: Acquire Torah with love, fear and awe, May 17, 2010) we discussed how one should serve G'd with both love and fear. In this way, our observance will be well balanced. On the one hand, we will not fall into an attitude of disrespect; and on the other hand, we will not come to hate fulfilling our obligations. The most common testing ground of this dual approach is how we conduct ourselves in the synagogue. There we can quite easily measure our levels of fear and love of G'd. Our service of G'd applies wherever we are throughout the day, as it says (Mishlei 3:6): "In all your ways you shall acknowledge G'd." However, the places that are specifically dedicated to serving G'd is our houses of prayer. People who only infrequently come to pray will generally exhibit a lot of respect and awe when they enter a place of worship, but they often lack the feeling of love and closeness to G'd in their prayers. On the other hand, those who come to pray three times a day feel very much at home in the synagogue, and therefore they are prone to loose their respect for the holiness of the synagogue.
Respect G'd's sanctuary
In Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 151) there are very specific instructions how to conduct oneself when entering a house of worship and a house of study. This includes not engaging in idle talk, even if one is not praying or studying. The Torah teaches (Vayikra 19:30): "And you shall respect My sanctuary." This does not only refer to the Tabernacle in the wilderness and the Temple in Jerusalem, but includes every house of worship.
But how can we develop our fear of G'd? King Solomon (Mishlei 22:4) says: "On the heels of humility comes fear of G'd." This brings us to the quality of humility which is the next thing mentioned in the Mishnah of the 48 things necessary to acquire Torah. (According to some commentaries, humility is mentioned in the Mishnah before the fear of G'd, which corresponds to the above-mentioned verse in Mishlei that teaches that humility brings one to fear of G'd.)
Putrid drop and maggots
The Ramban, in his famous letter to his son, elaborates on how to develop humility and how a humble person should conduct himself. He advises that one should contemplate from where one comes, where one is destined to go, and that one eventually will be called for judgment before the King of Glory. This advice is based on the Mishnah (Pirkei Avos 3:1) that teaches how a person should remember that he originates from a putrid drop, that his body will end up in a place of dust, maggots and worms, and that he will have to stand in judgment and give an accounting in front of G'd. This judgment is very detailed, as it says in the end of Koheles (12:14): "For G'd will bring one to judgment for every deed, everything that was concealed, whether good or bad."
Focus on soul not body
The Zohar (beginning of Parashas Vayishlach) teaches that our evil inclination will constantly challenge a person to focus on his body and its needs. The more that a person concentrates on his personal needs, and feels that his body is important, the less this person will recognize G'd in his life. But when a person contemplates the origin of his body, as well as its final destination, he will realize the insignificance of the body and its cravings. In this way, the person will be ready to acknowledge the importance of his soul, which is part of eternity, and he will keep in mind how one day his soul will stand in judgment and have to give an exact accounting of every moment it was in this world. The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 98:1) instructs that, prior to praying, a person should think about the greatness of G'd and the smallness of the human being. The same applies when one comes to study Torah, as one should keep in mind that it is the word of G'd that one is privilege to study. This is a constant challenge. But if we train ourselves to internalize these thoughts, we have the ability to develop true humility.
Humble Moses, Sinai, Torah
In this week's Parasha (Bamidbar 12:3), the Torah describes Moses as an extremely humble person, more humble than any other person in the world. The Maharal explains that G'd chose to give the Torah to the Jewish people through Moses for this very reason. This corresponds with the Talmud (Megillah 29a) that teaches why, of all the mountains, G'd decided to give the Torah on Mount Sinai. G'd did not look for a big impressive mountain. Rather, He chose a small and low mountain that represents humility. Similarly, the Talmud (Ta'anis 7a) quotes the Prophet Yeshayahu (55:1) who states: "Anyone that is thirty go to the water." This, explains the Talmud, is an open invitation for everyone to come and learn Torah. But, asks the Talmud, "Why is Torah compared to water?" The Talmud answers, "For just like water flows away from tall places and descends to low places, so too the words of Torah will only last by a humble person."
Humble Torah leaders
This message came across very clearly at the revelation at Mount Sinai, and this is how it has been ever since. In every generation, we find that the true Torah leaders did no excel only in their vast knowledge, but even more so in their humility.
Already at the time of creation, G'd taught the importance of humility. In Bereishis (1:26) it says: "And G'd said, 'Let us make man in Our image.'" Rashi quotes the Midrash that points out the difficulty in this verse being in plural. Who did G'd consult with? The Midrash explains that obviously G'd did not have any assistants helping Him with the Creation. But G'd wanted to teach man a lesson of humility at the very beginning of the world. Therefore, G'd turned to the angels, who He had created on the second day (see Rashi Bereishis 1:5) and discussed the creation of man with them. The purpose of this consultation, says the Midrash, was that G'd wanted to teach proper conduct and humility, that the greater person should always be ready to discuss and consult with someone of lesser status. This lesson is so important that G'd taught it the day man was created and again, at the most important event in the history of mankind, at the revelation at Mount Sinai.
Only a truly humble person who is above egocentric considerations can be trusted with the Torah. For only such a person will seek the truth and not interpret it according to his personal interests. The Rambam (Laws of Repentance 5:2) writes that every person has the potential to be righteous like Moses. Obviously, this does not mean to have prophetic vision like Moses. For the Torah clearly writes in this week's Parsha (Bamidbar 12:6-8) that Moses was in a class of his own, above all other prophets. Rather, the Rambam refers to Moses' extreme humility. He was well aware of his greatness, but he understood that all of his greatness was a blessing, a gift from G'd. We are all blessed with our unique abilities and strengths. It is up to us to emulate Moses and recognize the true source of our blessings. In this way, we can stay humble and merit to be a link in the transmission of Torah that started at Mount Sinai.
These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shalom. Michael Deverett
P.S. If you have any questions or enjoyed reading this e-mail, we would appreciate hearing from you. If you know of others who may be interested in receiving e-mails similar to this please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Shema Yisrael Torah Network