After all, personal claims of humility do have a certain sardonic nature to them. For the very same reason I fell quite resistant to write about humility, since presumptions of expertise can expose pride and excessive effort to avoid this can result in self-deprecation and false humility. I suppose those who have a humble spirit are hardly aware of it and rarely speak of it. So I will attempt to make a few observations, hopefully with neither hubris nor false humility.
It does seem to me that humility in the age of Facebook is a near impossibility. We have designed, built and equipped a culture that is dedicated to self-aggrandizement. Even the third person announcements such as “BLANK is eating a banana and contemplating the meaning of life” give testimony to our systemic narcissism. Of course it all makes more sense if you visit www.
Perhaps the secret then to genuinely feeling good about ourselves is to heed the advice of Rav Sha’ul,
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:3-4)
I think what is key to this is that this is not a call to self deprecation, rather it is an appeal to raise our awareness and opinion of others, and in doing so elevate our own stature as image bearers of the Holy One. R’ Sha’ul continues, “Your attitude should be the same as Mashiach Yeshua.” (Philippians 2:5) Rebbe Nachman of Breslov offers the similar advice to imitate God:
“Be like Hashem and don’t look for people’s shortcomings and weak points. You will then be at peace with everyone.” (Advice p.258)
“It is easy to criticize others and make them feel unwanted. Anyone can do it. What takes effort and skill is picking them up and making them feel good.” (N’tiv Tzaddik 31)
My eleven-year-old daughter recently taught me a lesson regarding this. We have a neighbor who has a reputation for being somewhat angry and inhospitable. A woman somewhat older than my wife and I, she is frequently in conflict with many people in our neighborhood. Though we have personally had a very civil relationship with her, I confess that her reputation and demeanor has caused me to harbor a concealed dislike for her. So think how surprised my wife an I were to find out that my daughter decided on her own to invite her to “grandparents day” at her school as a surrogate for her own grandmothers who both live out of state. After asking us she walked next door and extended the invitation. We could not understand how or why she came by this idea of inviting this particular woman who she has had minimum interaction with, and who she has observed yelling at other neighborhood children. Still amazed we asked our daughter directly, why she chose this neighbor. Her response was, “maybe she is just lonely.” Her decision was not borne out of naiveté or ignorance, but out of an honest childlike hopefulness and selflessness. And it worked! They went out to lunch after school and this woman gave Rachel flowers and explained how happy she was to have her as a neighbor and a friend. The truth is that by considering her neighbor more important than herself, I imagine Rachel wound up feeling pretty good about herself.
I am reminded of a story I once heard of the Chafetz Chaim. While attending a Bar Mitzvah meal where a number of rabbis were in attendance, the Chafez Chaim was asked to address the group. The great man politely refused the honor. On the way home from the affair one of his students asked him why he did not desire to speak. The sage answered, ”If my speech would not be as good as the others, what purpose would it serve? And if mine had been better, I might possibly have embarrassed them – something I would not wish to do.” It is usually the most secure people who find little delight in seeking their own honor. It is usually the very same people, like the Chafetz Chaim who are remembered with great honor.
So the redactor of Bamidbar recalls the great humility of Moses, who is remembered as the giver of Torah. Moses helped Hashem raise Israel out of its probationary state with the delivering of Torah. Messiah Yeshua is in the process of raising all of humanity out of its animal state. How did he do so? He “made himself nothing taking the very nature of a servant…and he humbled himself… As a result Hashem exalted him to the highest place.” (Philippians 2:7-9) This is true humility, and he doesn’t even have a Facebook page.