middot humility torah

torah (6)

Thursday, 06 June 2013 09:32

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.

Sunday, 10 March 2013 12:26

little letter, big lesson

Written by rabbi russ resnik

art-vayikra“Vayikra—and he called to Moses, and the Lord spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting. . .”

One single, extra small letter in the traditional text of Vayikra (Lev. 1:1-5:26) teaches us a big lesson in humility. In fact, it’s a letter in the first word of the parasha, the word “vayikra” itself, which is written in the Torah scroll with a final aleph that is smaller than the rest of the letters.

Sunday, 09 December 2012 09:19

humble Joseph

Written by rabbi russ resnik

art-dreamcoatFor this round of middot, I intend to stay in the vicinity of the weekly parasha. We’re currently at the beginning of the story of Joseph, so let’s see what it might have to teach us regarding the middah of humility.

Joseph’s story turns on three pairs of dreams. In the first pair, Joseph sees himself symbolically as dominant over his brothers, and he foolishly tells them about it. Commentator Nahum Sarna says, “The predictive aspect of dreams was universally assumed in the ancient world, and this was reason enough for the brothers to take Joseph seriously.” Dreams are potent, but Joseph handles them carelessly, fueling his brothers’ resentment and earning a rebuke from Jacob his father, who generally appears to favor Joseph and not rebuke him for anything. The brothers decide to get rid of their obnoxious brother and sell him into slavery in Egypt. Joseph ends up in an Egyptian prison where, after years of bondage, he accurately interprets the dreams of two fellow inmates. One, the royal cupbearer, will be released, and the other, the royal baker, will be executed. Again, Joseph talks about dreams with little thought to the impact of his words. He tells the baker he’s about to die, without so much as a “Sorry to have to tell you this.” Joseph even employs a play on words, telling the cupbearer that Pharaoh will “lift his head” to restore him and the baker that Pharaoh will “lift his head” off to execute him. Oh well . . .

Finally, Pharaoh has a pair of dreams that no one can interpret until the cupbearer remembers Joseph. He tells Pharaoh about him and Joseph is summoned to interpret the dreams, which he does convincingly, wrapping it up with, “The doubling of Pharaoh's dream means that the thing is fixed by God, and God will shortly bring it about” (Gen. 41:32). Then he adds some words of his own: “Now therefore let Pharaoh select a discerning and wise man, and set him over the land of Egypt. Let Pharaoh proceed to appoint overseers over the land and take one-fifth of the produce of the land . . . so that the land may not perish through the famine” (Gen. 41:33–36). As a result, Joseph is put in charge of the whole vast operation to save Egypt from the predicted famine.

In the foreground of the story, its big theme begins to move ahead, the restoration of the twelve sons of Israel. But in the background we can discern a lesson about humility.

Joseph doesn’t just interpret Pharaoh’s dream, but now he takes responsibility for his interpretation and suggests a response. One could say that Joseph is just trying to get out of prison, and maybe even get himself a paying job (which you can hardly blame him for), but perhaps there’s more to it. In the past, Joseph didn’t even seem to be aware of the impact his words might have, as he talked about the various dreams. But now he’s learned to pause and consider the impact of his words, which is an integral part of humility. Sarna points out that “Joseph is extremely tactful and cautious. . . .  [His] repeated emphasis on ‘Pharaoh’ . . .  accords with the ancient Egyptian concept of government, which stressed the ubiquitous, omniscient, and omnipotent nature of the king.” When Joseph advises the king to “proceed to appoint overseers,” he “deliberately uses the same verbal stem [asah] he used three times before in connection with the impending divine action (vv. 25, 28, 32), as though to imply that Pharaoh is the human counterpart of God.”

Now, you might think this sort of language is basic protocol when you’re talking with Pharaoh, but Joseph has shown himself to be oblivious to basic protocol in the past, both with his older, and higher ranking, brothers and with his two high-ranking fellow prisoners. Now, I believe, he’s learned something about humility that might be helpful to us as well. Humility is the ability to step back and see the impact of your potential words, to consider them, not just from your perspective, but from the other person’s perspective. Humility is willing to modify, to be careful, to hand-carry our words for the sake of the other. Humility overcomes the belief that my perspective, and my way of expressing it, is always just fine, and others will have to learn to like it. Humility replaces such self-delusion with sensitivity, and makes the effort to meet the needs of the other, instead of just meeting the need to express myself.

Thursday, 04 August 2011 17:08

God is with us

Written by rabbi benjamin ehrenfeld

art-holdinghandsThe opening of Devarim is Moses’ “recap” of much that had transpired for the Jewish people while travelling towards the Land. The picture isn’t so pretty. Moses does not give an optimistic appraisal of the people. By and large they are presented as stubborn, weak, scared, petty, and dense.

Friday, 06 May 2011 15:38

humility in community

Written by rabbi russ resnik

art-omercalAs we are approaching the half-way point of Sefirat Ha-Omer, counting the days from Passover to Shavuot (Lev. 23:10-15), we might recall that the first 32 days of the Omer are a period of semi-mourning in Jewish tradition.

Friday, 05 November 2010 15:02

leadership to live by

Written by rav rafael

art-crown-of-patienceNow this man Moses was exceedingly humble, more so than any person on the face of the earth. (Num. 12:3)

This verse appears in the context one of Moses' most difficult trials, a rebellion of sorts by his brother and sister.  From Exodus through Deuteronomy we experience the revelation of Hashem through the story of a humble leader and the Children of Israel.  The Torah narrative points out explicitly the trait of humility that Moses possessed.  Why is this trait so important for spiritual leadership within communities?

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