Parshas Behaloscha ends with the story of Miriam being stricken with tzara’as. After questioning if some of Moshe’s actions were actually commands from Hashem or simply his own personal stringencies, Hashem gives Miriam tzara’as as punishment for her lashon hara against her brother. Following her accusation, the Torah writes one of the most famous pesukim in the entire book, “"וְהָאִ֥ישׁ משֶׁ֖ה עָנָ֣יו מְאֹ֑ד מִכֹּל֙ הָאָדָ֔ם אֲשֶׁ֖ר עַל־פְּנֵ֥י הָֽאֲדָמָֽה “The man, Moshe, was exceedingly humble, more so than any other person on the face of the earth” (Bamidbar 12:3). The reason for this pasuk being placed here is in direct response to Miriam’s claim; Moshe’s humility was his chief attribute, and in this manner, as well as many others, he was the greatest man alive. It was simply ridiculous to suspect such a man could ever act in seeming contradiction to the word of Hashem; which he was privileged to hear directly from Hashem’s mouth.
But what exactly made Moshe the most humble man alive? Well, first, let’s try to define humility. A common explanation for humble is someone who doesn’t try to make himself into an important person, someone who acts with deference to those around him. In fact, the dictionary definition is someone who acts with submission. Two stories in the Torah concerning Moshe don’t seem to reflect these definitions of humility. One story is the first conversation between Moshe and Hashem at the Burning Bush. Hashem continually asks Moshe to be the leader and savior the Bnei Yisrael need to take them out of Mitzrayim, and Moshe keeps refusing the position; until, Hashem stops asking and tells Moshe that he needs to be the one.
If we examine this story and compare it to our definition of humility, it seems that Moshe did exactly what he was supposed to do! He tried to stay out of the spotlight, refused any drop of honor offered to him, and only took it when it was literally forced upon him. This must be the source of his humility! Actually, Chazal teach us that Moshe was wrong to refuse Hashem, and was actually punished for his hesitation in that he lost the chance to be the Kohen Gadol. So, not only is this story the opposite of what we thought, Chazal teach us that losing out on the additional honor of being the Kohen Gadol was a punishment! So far, it doesn’t seem as if our definition is correct.
A second instance in the Torah where you see Moshe connected with humility is our pasuk here. The Torah that we have was dictated by Hashem Himself and written over by Moshe word for word exactly as he heard it. That includes this pasuk! Can you imagine how difficult it was for a humble man like Moshe to have to write that he was the most humble man alive? For a truly humble person, it must have been torture! And yet, we find no record, in the Written or Oral Torah, that Moshe had any difficulty with this sentence like he did with the conversation by the Bush. How could this be? Perhaps we need to reevaluate our definition of humility.
Humility is not about staying away from the limelight or being submissive to those around you. That, in fact, is the opposite of humility. We are all given tremendous abilities from Hashem to accomplish many things throughout our lives. These abilities allow us to do some things poorly, some things well, and some things extremely well; this last group is what we usually refer to as our talents. To use our talents in the right way and for the right purpose is enjoyable for ourselves, but at the same time, it’s our way of showing Hashem how much we appreciate the gifts He has given us. To refuse a talent is to show-up Hashem, as if to say, ‘I don’t need your gifts!’ Simply doing what we are good at is a way of serving Hashem!
At the same time, we must realize that our talents are not our own, they are gifts from Hashem. So we have no reason to use them as sources of arrogance, after all, we didn’t become these people just through our own efforts! Furthermore, we must recognize that we were given these gifts for a reason. Everyone is unique, Hashem chose you above the billions of other people in the world to use this talent. If you don’t use it in the best way possible, then why do you even deserve it? Therefore, it’s our responsibility and mission to go about using our talents to further Hashem’s plan in this world; in whatever way that may be.
This is the true definition of humility, recognizing the greatness and uniqueness that lives within you and how that makes you an incredible being. While at the same time, understanding the responsibility placed upon you to make the best use of your greatness and how arrogance is pointless when the greatness didn’t originate with you.
We can now understand the stories of Moshe. By the Bush, Moshe was refusing to use his greatness in the way Hashem intended, to save the Jewish People. Therefore, Hashem was upset with him. But when it comes to our pasuk, Moshe did exactly what he was supposed to do. Humility is an important attribute, one that we must all make a part of ourselves. Who better to learn it from than the best! Hashem wanted everyone to know that Moshe was the most humble man alive in order that we should study his actions and learn what true humility is (besides for the fact that it was true, Moshe was the most humble, and he couldn’t exactly argue truths like he could argue about mission at the Burning Bush). Knowing this fact, we can go back and examine Moshe’s life to understand what true humility is, and that is exactly what we have done this week.
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