middot humility torah humility in your pocket

humility in your pocket

Written by  rachmiel lev

art-twopocketsRecently, a friend told me of a situation with another friend that was truly aggravating him, and a quote from Pirket Avot came to mind. I told my friend to remember the other person came from a putrid drop and will become nothing but dust, maggots and worms, and that my friend should know before whom HE stands.

The complete quote from Pirkei Avot is:

"Reflect upon three things and you will not come to sin: Know from where you came, to where you are going, and before Whom you are destined to give an accounting. 'From where you came' - from a putrid drop; 'and to where you are going' - to a place of dust, maggots and worms; 'and before Whom you are destined to give an accounting' - before the King of kings, the Holy One, blessed be He." -- m. Avot 3:1

Rabbi Simkha Bunem, said:

"Everyone must have two pockets with a note in each one. When we are feeling discouraged and depressed, we can reach into one pocket and read: for my sake was the whole world was created. On the other hand, when we are feeling lofty and mighty, we can reach into the other pocket and read: I am simply dust and ashes."

This last quote is normally attributed to Hillel, but was not. I checked. But it is famous for being an excellent summation of two concepts which are attributable to Hillel.

Moshe, was known for his humility. Not at first, mind you. Like the rest of us, he was human as well. He had to find the balance. At first, he kept looking at the pocket that said he was but dust. Or perhaps he focused on the first and last parts of the quote from the Pirkei Avot. He had forgotten about the "Know before whom you stand."

Moshe, as you recall was rescued from the Nile by one of Pharaoh’s estimated 50-60 daughters. Moshe then grew up in royalty, surrounded by the wealth of Pharaoh. He was one of the royal family and would have been schooled in the sciences, history, etiquette, and amongst other things would have been schooled in oration. In Acts we read of Moshe, “ … When he was placed outside, Pharaoh’s daughter took him and brought him up as her own son. Moshe was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was powerful in speech and action.”

When Moshe fled Egypt to the Midian territory, they took him for an Egyptian. He looked and acted as an Egyptian, and not just any Egyptian, but one of the royal household.

And yet, we read in Shemot that Moshe told God that he was a terrible speaker. Now I know that most Christian commentators today assume that meant that Moshe must have had a speech impediment.

Even that may not have been an issue. The movie, “The King’s Speech” tells the story of King George VI in England, just prior to World War II, who after his older brother abdicated the throne, was to become king in his place. However, due to a stammer and fear of speaking, he was thought by many of prominence to be unfit. But with the help of an unorthodox therapist was able to overcome and work within the limitations of his disability. And the God who created each of us, is far more than any human therapist.

Moshe was raised with privilege in a king’s household. He was a person of prominence. Then he was evicted and disgraced. He became a shepherd amongst the Midianites. To the Egyptian mindset, the shepherd was the lowest possible occupation. They were the outcasts, the lowest of the low. Moshe spent 40 years with mostly sheep as companions. He was an Egyptian, after all. Is it possible that he suffered from a lack of self-esteem?

Moshe tried to refuse God’s mission 5 times. In the end, God told Moshe that his brother would speak for him. God would hear no more objections. But please note: in the future, it will not be Aharon speaking, but Moshe.

So what exactly is Torah’s definition of "humility?" 

First, let's clarify what humility is not. Humility does not mean a meek reluctance to speak up or be assertive. Humility is not slouching your shoulders and having low self-esteem.

The living Word defines humility as "living with the reality that nothing matters except doing the right thing." That means the humble person is not dependent on the opinion of others. The humble person can set his ego aside, if need be, in order to consistently do the right thing. The higher a person becomes spiritually, the more humble he becomes. Moshe was called "the most humble" because when he stood before God he knew his place. Anything else precludes room for God to fit in. That's why the Talmud likens arrogance to idol worship; both push away the presence of God.

Hebrews records, "By faith Moshe, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter.  He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God… Seeing the oppression of his own people, Moshe gave up his position and honor to associate himself with his Hebrew brothers."

Yeshua, in like manner, also did this for us, His people. The book of Philippians states of Yeshua,

"Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death."


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