Mussar - Humility ענוה

When asked how he had had such an impact as a great sage and leader in the twentieth-century Jewish world, the Chafetz Chaim answered, “I set out to try to change the world, but I failed. So I decided to scale back my efforts and only try to influence the Jewish community of Poland, but I failed there, too. So I targeted the community in my hometown of Radin, but achieved no greater success. Then I gave all my effort to changing my own family, and failed at that as well. Finally, I decided to change myself, and that’s how I had such an impact on the Jewish world.”

רַבִּי אֶלְעָזָר בֶּן עֲזַרְיָה אוֹמֵר, אִם אֵין תּוֹרָה, אֵין דֶּרֶךְ אֶרֶץ. אִם אֵין דֶּרֶךְ אֶרֶץ, אֵין תּוֹרָה.

Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah said: Where there is no Torah, there is no right conduct; where there is no right conduct, there is no Torah.

Rabbi Simcha Bunim taught that every person should carry two pieces of paper, one in each pocket: in one pocket "For me the world was created." and in the other "I am but dust and ashes." When we have moments of self loathing take out the first; in moments of grandiosity the second. Our souls are poised between greatness and nothingness; in knowing both are we blessed.

(ג) וְהָאִ֥ישׁ מֹשֶׁ֖ה ענו [עָנָ֣יו] מְאֹ֑ד מִכֹּל֙ הָֽאָדָ֔ם אֲשֶׁ֖ר עַל־פְּנֵ֥י הָאֲדָמָֽה׃ (ס)

(3) Now Moses was a very humble man, more so than any other man on earth.

Questions for Study:

1. What does the word "anav" עניו, humble, mean in relation to Moses?

2. How does humility make a good leader?

3. When in the Bible might you see Moses demonstrating humility?

א"ר חייא בר אשי אמר רב ת"ח צריך שיהא בו אחד משמונה בשמינית . . . . אמר רבא בשמתא דאית ביה ובשמתא דלית ביה

Rav Ḥiyya bar Ashi says that Rav says: Despite the opprobrium assigned to one who exhibits the trait of arrogance, a Torah scholar must have one-eighth of one-eighth of arrogance. . . . Rava said: A Torah scholar who has arrogance should be excommunicated, and one who does not have arrogance at all should be excommunicated as well. As such, he must have only a minute measure of arrogance.

Questions for Study:

1. Why is it important to have a degree of arrogance?

2. What might be the problem with having too much humility?

3. When have you been too humble?

4. In what kind of situations do you find it difficult to maintain a healthy sense of taking up the right amount of space.

Rabbi Chatzkel Abramsky, a well-known leader of the Jewish community in England, was once called to testify in court. His lawyer asked him, "Rabbi Abramsky, is it true that you are the greatest living Jewish legal authority in Europe?" The rabbi replied, "Yes, that's true." At that point the judge interjected and said, "Rabbi Abramsky, is that not rather haughty of you? I thought that your laws and ethics teach you to be humble." To which Rabbi Abramsky responded, " I know we are taught to be humble. But what can I do? I am under oath."

(יד) הוּא הָיָה אוֹמֵר, אִם אֵין אֲנִי לִי, מִי לִי. וּכְשֶׁאֲנִי לְעַצְמִי, מָה אֲנִי. וְאִם לֹא עַכְשָׁיו, אֵימָתָי:

(14) He [Rabbi Hillel] used to say: If I am not for me, who will be for me? And when I am for myself alone, what am I? And if not now, then when?

RASHI: He would say . . .

It is a known fact that person's life is shortened when he has ambitions to spread his name. We have already noted that Joseph died before his brothers, although he was one of the youngest, because he had grandiose ideas of greatness. Moreover, Scriptures also hint (Proverbs 16:18), "Before the downfall, goes pride."

(יח) לִפְנֵי־שֶׁ֥בֶר גָּא֑וֹן וְלִפְנֵ֥י כִ֝שָּׁל֗וֹן גֹּ֣בַהּ רֽוּחַ׃

(18) Pride goes before ruin, Arrogance, before failure.

Practices for Consideration:

1. Notice how much physical (not just emotional) space you take up (in lines, on benches, on public transportation, in shared space at home)

2. Keep a two cards, or a double-sided card in wallet pocket with the words suggested by Simcha Bunum. On one side "the world was created for me," and on the other, "I'm nothing but dust and ashes"

3. Write a journal entry that explores the places where you take up too much space, and the places where you tend to be a wall flower.

4. Recite this prayer from Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav each day:

Dear God, guide me along the path of sincere humility. If even I put on airs ––stop me! Bless me with a humble spirit: with eyes that see only the good in people; with a mind always open to others' opinions; with a heart always caring of their concerns. Teach me to humble myself even before the lowliest of Your Children, whose very brokenness brings them closer to you.