Eliezer Shemtov
Trying to make a difference

Are You Big Enough for Humility?

Behaalotecha

One of the causes of anxiety and depression is low self-esteem. When you feel that you are worthless or that you don’t excel at anything special, you are well on your way to becoming depressed. 

Let’s take a look at a tried and tested antidote that helps protect against low self-esteem: humility.

How does humility protect us against low self-esteem? According to Wikipedia, “Dictionary definitions accentuate humility as a low self-regard and sense of unworthiness.” Aren’t the two similar, if not variations of the very same feeling of worthlessness? How can humility protect us against low self-esteem?

Let’s see what humility is all about from the Chassidic perspective.

In this week’s reading, Behaalotecha [1], we read that “the man Moses was more humble than any man on the face of the Earth” [2]. 

According to Chassidic teachings, the idea of the verse is not only that Moses had more humility than anyone else, but that it was caused by his comparing himself with anyone else on the face of the earth. 

How does it make sense to say that the man who faced down Pharaoh, punishing him with ten plagues, who then proceeded to take the Jewish people out of slavery, part the sea, receive the Torah from the hands of G-d, etc., etc., felt “low self-regard and sense of unworthiness” when comparing himself to any man who existed on Earth? Weren’t his virtues and achievements infinitely greater than his limitations? Was there anyone in history that achieved more than he did? Why was Moses so humble?

Obviously, humility is not synonymous with an inferiority complex. What, then, is it?

Humility is the result of a deep and honest appreciation for truth. The more genuine one’s greatness, the more humility he or she will have.

Here’s why.

When you excel at something in an extraordinary way, you can come to one of two conclusions: 1) I am greater and more important than others; 2) I have something more valuable than others. The first conclusion leads you to be arrogant, to feel privileged, and to avoid wasting time with “inferior” people. The second conclusion leads you to feel a great responsibility for what you were entrusted with as well as for others who don’t have what you do, and it also leads you to have a lot of humility.

Why humility?

If I am gifted and/or have opportunities that others do not have, I am in a position to produce more than they do. The standard that I will be held to is therefore much higher. G-d appreciates every good deed we do; He cares even more, however, about how much effort we put into doing what we should. More is expected from the one who knows and can do more.  

Moses felt humbled when comparing himself to anyone else, precisely because he knew that the gifts he possessed were greater than anyone else’s. As a result of that, more was expected from him than from anyone else, and anyone else’s effort was likely worth more than his. “Besides,” he thought, “who knows if someone else wouldn’t have achieved more than I did were he or she to have the same gifts, resources, and opportunities with which I was blessed?”

“Of course I do everything right!”, thought Moses. “How can I not do what G-d asks? I heard it all directly from G-d! But you see Daniel from Montevideo? He is being faithful to the Torah and fulfilling a Mitzvah… 3,332 years after having received the Torah! I don’t know if I could have resisted the temptations, overcome the challenges and do what he is doing were I to be in his place!”

People tend to compare themselves to others, for better or for worse. If you think you are superior to someone you feel good and if you think the other guy is better than you, you feel bad. That’s a big fallacy. Not by being better than someone else are you necessarily a success and not by being worse than someone else does it mean that you are a failure. The only one you should compare yourself with is yourself, asking yourself: Am I better today than I was yesterday? Am I performing as well as I can? And if I meet someone who is inferior to me, should I look down at him with arrogance? It is very likely that precisely because of the inferiority of his conditions he is really superior to me. The merit of his effort —in spite of everything that he does not have— is much more valuable in the eyes of G-d. 

Everyone can be outstanding. Some because of their natural talents and others because of what they achieve in spite of their natural limitations. Being clear about this allows us to respect every person we come across, without exception, including —or perhaps especially— ourselves. 

Do you understand now how humility is the best antidote to low self-esteem? Humility is the result of being in tune with reality; low self-esteem is the result of being in tune with unrealistic fantasies. 

So, this week’s tool is: become aware of the deepest reason for why human life matters and then you will realize that every life matters not only in spite of the differences, but because of the differences. As a result of that realization, you will not only be able to attain true humility; you will also enjoy a healthier, more genuine self-esteem.

Based on Likutei Sichot, Vol. 13 pages 30-38; Likutei Sichot, Vol. 17, pages 1-8.

  1. Numbers, 8:1-12:16
  2. Numbers, 12:3
About the Author
Rabbi Eliezer Shemtov, born in in Brooklyn, NY in 1961. Received Smicha From Tomchei Temimim in 1984 and shortly after was sent by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, may his merit shield us, together with his wife Rachel to establish the first Beit Chabad in Montevideo, Uruguay and direct Chabad activities in that country. He has authored many articles on Judaism that have been published internationally. Since publishing his popular book on intermarriage, "Dear Rabbi, Why Can't I Marry Her?" he has authored several books in Spanish, English and Hebrew dealing with the challenges that the contemporary Jew has to deal with.
Related Topics
Related Posts
Comments