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Defining Humility - In Memoriam of Mr. David M. Warren (Menachem Dovid ben Harv Yosef Z'L)
“And the Man Moses was very humble, more than any individual on the face of the earth.” (Numbers 12:3)

The Torah later testifies (Deuteronomy 31:22) that Moses taught the whole Torah to all of Israel. How is it possible for Moses himself to teach everyone that he was very humble, more than any individual on the face of the earth? Isn't that contradictory? Doesn't the declaration demonstrate a lack of humility?

In order to answer this question, let's first consider the Talmud (30 CE 220 CE; Mishna; Sotah 49a): “From the time Rebbe (Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi) died there was no more humility and fear of sin.” Rav Yosef (4 th Century), commenting on the mishna, says “The Mishna cannot mean ‘humility' because I am humble.” Rav Nakhman (4 th Century) adds, “The Mishna cannot mean ‘fear of sin' because I fear sin.”

How is it possible for Rav Yosef to declare his humility? Isn't Rav Nakhman acting immodestly by claiming he fears sin?

To answer the questions, we must first understand what they're saying. G-d has granted each of us certain capabilities. Coupled with those capabilities is a responsibility upon each individual to reach his full potential. Not everybody has the ability to be the most humble person on earth but those that do have the responsibility to become so. Why else would G-d have granted them that potential?

Humility doesn't mean denying who you are, disregarding your abilities and feigning inferiority. Quite the contrary. Humility demands that each person recognize his full potential, that his abilities come from G-d, and his obligation towards G-d to reach his potential.

Moses was the most humble person on earth. G-d gave him that capability and expected no less. Moses wasn't boasting. He was acknowledging his abilities and his responsibilities. Pretending otherwise wouldn't be humility. It would be self degradation.

Furthermore, because those gifts come from G-d, a true, genuine, humble person will never see himself as better than others or take personal credit for his achievements. A humble person will see himself as having more responsibility for himself, others, and society. As Nahmanides' writes in letter to his children, “If you are wise, consider that your fellow is more righteous than you: You are more responsible for your actions and therefore more liable for infractions.”

Each of us has a significant role to play in this world. Those who properly recognize their roles, accept their responsibilities, and continuously strive to achieve their potential, are the ones who can call themselves humble.
Shabbat Shalom

 


 
   
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