Behar 5774

Thursday, 8 May, 2014 - 4:29 pm


Dear Friends,


In a village in Poland there was a much-respected scholar. Among other things, he succeeded in convincing everyone that he was the most humble man on earth…

The Rabbi of the Shtetl went to meet this learned man and said: “Your honor, I have a question. You are a scholar, and you most probably knew what is written in the book of Bamidbar, chapter 12: ‘And the man Moshe was exceedingly humble, more than any person on earth.’ The question is, if you are the most humble person in the world, how does this work out with the verse about Moshe?”

The scholar answered him with a perfectly straight face: “Yes, I know that verse, and I have the same question. I don’t have an answer to it.”

Said the Rabbi to him: “If you have the same question, I already have an answer…”

Unlike that scholar, it is clear that Moshe Rabbeinu (our teacher) was not putting on an act of being humble. It is also clear that Moshe Rabbeinu was aware of his special status, including that of being the leader of a people chosen by the Creator. He knew  that he was “Moshe Rabbeinu”, and the question is, how could he, in spite of all this, still be the most humble person on earth?

The Rebbe provides a simple explanation: When Moshe looked at other, ordinary people, he thought to himself: “It’s true that today, in my position and status, I am in a different, more important, more meaningful – and infinitely more sublime – place. But I received all of this as a gift. I was born into the family of Amram and Yocheved, without my having chosen it. I am a Levite – also without my having chosen it. Even my being the leader – Moshe Rabbeinu – was a choice Hashem made, against my will. If Hashem would have chosen someone else and given him the possibilities and opportunities He gave me, it’s possible that that person would have done everything better than I have.”

That way of thinking was what prevented him from feeling any sort of pride, and made him the most humble of people.

The two sides of Moshe’s personality – recognizing his stature of being Moshe Rabbeinu with all that that implies on one hand, and true and honest humility on the other hand, are a life-lesson for all of us.

This idea is expressed in the name of this week’s Parasha as well, Parashat Behar (Sinai).

Har Sinai, too, has two aspects to it: a. It is a mountain, meaning it stands high and tall. b. It is a low mountain (every Jewish child knows of the “fight” the mountains had, based on the Midrash on Tehillim 25), not showy or impressive like other mountains, certainly not to be compared with the mountains surrounding us here in Switzerland. In other words, it is a mountain, but merely Mount Sinai, nothing more.

The fact that the Torah was given by Moshe on Mount Sinai shows us the way to lead our lives. On one hand, a person must certainly acknowledge his virtues, his positive traits, his talents and even his accomplishments. On the other hand, like Moshe Rabbeinu, he must remember that much of what he has is made up of gifts that he has received. His place of birth, his family, his personality and talents. Thinking about all this balances a person in his life, and affords him a bit of modesty. This is true in work relationships, in family life – and generally.

In serving Hashem, in observing the Torah and keeping the Mitzvot, that’s what it is like: Sometimes one must be a tall, strong and proud mountain. Sometimes, and maybe most of the time, one must be modest and humble. Sometimes there is a need for Jewish pride – without being embarrassed and without being moved by someone who might be mocking our way of life or finding it funny. Sometimes, and perhaps usually, one must behave with humility and be careful to avoid pride and loftiness.

In other words, one must find the correct balance between the mountain – loftiness and pride, and Sinai – the humility and modesty so necessary if one wants to be a good person, both when it comes to interpersonal matters and when it comes to one’s relationship with the Alm-ghty.

Shabbat Shalom,

Zalmen Wishedski

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