Malkah Forbes, born in Upstate New York, studied Computer Science at SUNY Oswego (B.A.), where she met her future husband, Jason. Soon after, they moved to the Seattle area where her husband could pursue his career in software engineering. In tandem, Jason was studying to become a rabbi. After Jason received his smicha (rabbinic ordination) from the UMJC, both he and Malkah became leaders of their current congregation, Beit HaShofar Synagogue in Seattle, WA. Currently, Malkah is an active rebbetzin and not only teaches Hebrew, but helps to oversee and spearhead new synagogue programs. Her latest project includes Riverton Mussar, which she and her husband co-founded in 2010. She has been a frequent contributor of drashes for the UMJC website, served on the board of the UMJC National Sisterhood, Achot, and has been a speaker for various sessions at the UMJC International Conference.
When Malkah is not writing for Riverton Mussar, she can be found enjoying her three teenagers, her two delightful cats, working on her interior and garden redesign business, knitting, and sporting a serious game of Mah Jongg.
The Hebrew word for humility is anavah. Anavah denotes balance; a moderate, accurate understanding of ourselves.
When we have conceit, we fill a room with our enormous presence when we enter. There is no room for anyone else, there is no space for anyone to flourish.
The Baal Shem Tov once traveled with a group of his disciples to a distant village where there lived a certain parush (ascetic) who was constantly engaged in Torah study, prayer, and other divine service, to the exclusion of everything else. He was totally indifferent to worldly affairs. Whenever he uttered any words of Torah, he added, "So I received it from Elijah the Prophet." He was also an exceptional teacher who possessed a remarkable ability to clarify a complex Torah topic for anyone to whom he spoke, even the simplest person. Who could be more exalted?
Our Rabbis taught: Sufficient for his need [implies] you are commanded to maintain him, but you are not commanded to make him rich; in that which he wants [includes] even a horse to ride upon and a slave to run before him. It was related about Hillel the Elder that he bought for a certain poor man who was of a good family a horse to ride upon and a slave to run before him. On one occasion he could not find a slave to run before him, so he himself ran before him for three miles. --Talmud, Ketubot 67b
In Jerusalem long ago, an incredible incident took place in the office of a gemach (Jewish free loan fund, acronym of gemilut chasadim, acts of kindness). Customarily, the various gemachs in Jerusalem were all open on Thursdays, to be available to people who needed to borrow money for food for Shabbat. By Thursday night, all the gemach offices would be closed, mainly because money that had been available for the week was already gone.
One gemach, however, remained open on Friday mornings. The compassionate and sympathetic Reuven kept his gemach open, just in case someone needed him at the last minute. True, there was not so much money left by Friday, but he felt that one never knew who might be in desperate need. One Friday, when all the gemachs were closed except for Reuven’s, a young married man came in and asked for money for his family’s Shabbat food.
Reuven recognized the man for he had just been at the gemach the day before, and said, “If I remember correctly, you were here just yesterday.”
The young man’s face became flushed with anger. “Are you trying to tell me that I don’t need the money?” he fumed. “No, we are not saying that at all …” explained Reuven.
“Well, then lend me the money that I need! I already have cosigners for surety.”
Reuven looked at the young man compassionately and explained that it was the policy of the gemach not to lend twice within such a short period. The young man was enraged. Yelling, he stormed toward Reuven and slapped him across the face! The gentle Reuven stood there in shock and disbelief. No one had ever had the audacity to scream at him, let alone slap him.
Reuven’s assistant stepped forward to retaliate, but Reuven held him back. “Wait a moment,” Reuven said to the young man, “I’ll be back with the money right away.” He gave the bills to the young man and wished him well. The young man thanked him and left.
Because of the noise and commotion a few neighbors had gathered in the office to see what had happened. “If I were in your shoes,” one man shouted, “after such humiliation I would have demanded that he give back the money you had lent him yesterday, and pushed him out the door!”
Reuven, whose face still stung from the slap, explained. “I know this fellow. Under normal circumstances he would never have acted this way. He must be having such terrible problems that he lost himself completely. It’s because he did behave in such an unnatural way that I realized how desperate his position is. Now, more than ever, is the time to help him, and not be angry at him. So I went out of my way for him.” --Rabbi Paysach Krohn, The Maggid Speaks, pp. 86-87
There is another extremely high level of humility – humbling oneself before one's teachers, before the wise and before the righteous who walk in just paths – thinking to oneself: These are the servants of the Blessed One, His bondmen and His lovers, and, because of this, lowering himself before them and honoring them. It is also a good variety of humility if he thinks: I shall humble myself before them so that they will draw me near and teach me and chastise me and lead me in the ways of the Blessed One. – Rabbi Shraga Silverstein, Orchot Tzadikim, The Gate of Humility
The Hebrew word for decisiveness is harizut. Harizut means to cause to run, or to expedite.
The Hebrew gives us a slightly different spin on decisiveness. It highlights that it is a middah that acts in a quick way. Once you know what to do, you need not delay. If we do not develop this middah, we can lose the chance at opportunities that may not make themselves known again. By assessing situations more quickly and understanding the choices before you, you can act more decisively and immediately.
"Without a doubt a person will have to do a great deal of work in order to perfect this virtue [cleanliness]. Those sins that are recognizable and known are easy for one to be careful about since their ill effects are clearly recognizable. However, the meticulousness that cleanliness demands is more difficult since the process of [internal] rationalization conceals the sin, as I have written." --Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, The Path of the Just1
Without a doubt, personal hygiene speaks volumes about who we are and Who we serve. As Rabbi Lefin discusses in Cheshbon HaNefesh, someone needs to have only one look at us in whatever state we are in to establish a picture of who we are (or aren't).
But what about another slant on this middah - how do we approach the physical well-being of our bodies? While we may take pains to keep our teeth clean, do we take it a step further and schedule regular appointments to maintain and verify the health of our teeth? Do we take the time to keep the insides of our bodies "clean"? Or do we eat in such a way that we jeopardize the health of our hearts, arteries, and other organs? This is also cleanliness - for as we have all heard, we are what we eat. While the focus of the middah is on the outside of the body, it is inevitable that we should look within as well to ensure that we are truly maintaining our reflection of the Divine Image as best we can. The steps we take on a regular basis to seek wellness care helps our bodies to continue to run "clean", and able to perform mitzvot. For if the inside is not well, the outside will cease to exist - thus, the vehicle for the soul will be no more.
In a similar vein, do we maintain a level of fitness that is vital to healthy living? Do we take steps to include more excercise if we find we have a slowing metabolism or sedentary lifestyle - or do we let our bodies take on some random course? The idea of cleanliness can have so many angles; however, there is no question that our overall weight, diet and activity can affect our outer shell. And depending how we care for that shell, we can give people cause to respect us or view us as irresponsible and careless.
You are created in the image of G-d - b'tzelem Elokim - what are you going to do about it?