Parshat Behaalotecha: The Essence of Humility


Life always has different opportunities for growth, whether intellectual, religious, or personal. Specifically, the colorful palette of our character traits is constantly available to paint ourselves and our world with new brush strokes; this can be by controlling anger, embodying benevolence, or diluting sadness. While there are, of course, many qualities and personality traits that are important to refine, in Parshat Behaalotecha, the Torah spotlights one in particular: humility.

Nearing the end of the parsha, the Torah recounts that Miriam and Aharon were speaking about Moshe Rabbeinu’s marriage to a new woman. As the following pesukim detail Hashem’s rebuke of them and Miriam’s punishment, there is a very interesting pasuk placed in the middle: “Now Moses was a very humble man, more so than any other man on earth” (Devarim 12:3).

Given that this pasuk is juxtaposed to the lashon harah (negative speech) about Moshe and that there is no mention of him having any negative reaction, the Torah is clearly trying to highlight Moshe’s mastery of humility.

Of all Moshe’s extraordinary qualities, the Torah explicitly mentions his humbleness. However, there are many opinions and assumptions about what this characteristic actually is. Rav Kook shares a profound understanding of the essence of humility.

“Humility is undoubtedly a good personality trait when a person understands what it is and how to correctly embody and internalize it,” Rav Kook writes. “[Humility] is caused by the recognition that a person’s value and ability to accomplish or receive great things are unrelated. Rather, all greatness and goodness that comes one’s way are results of the kindness of God flowing down upon this person” (Musar Avicha 3.1).[1]

Two important principles are pointed out by Rav Kook: (1) Our value and our accomplishments or abilities are completely unrelated, meaning that every person is imbued with intrinsic worth that cannot be conditioned or compromised. (2) All of the blessings and skills that we have been gifted within this lifetime are sourced and rooted in Hashem; as Rabbi David Aaron says, “The powers within me are not from me.”

These two aspects of humility that Rav Kook mentions can be appreciated, especially when thinking that Moshe Rabbeinu mastered them, but why are they so important? And why is humility so desired? Orchot Tzaddikim says that “he who possesses this quality [humility] has already turned away his soul from all sorts of evil” (Shar HaAnavah). This idea is excellently complemented by Rav Kook’s two points.

When the idea that self-worth and human value are unconditional is wholeheartedly expressed, we can avoid the evils of depression, jealousy, and repressed anger, all of which can express themselves in poisonous manners; this is from Rav Kook’s first principle. Secondly, once we understand that in and of ourselves we are powerless, and really Hashem is the ultimate Source of ourselves and our powers, constantly sustaining and supporting us, we will live a more authentic life in accordance with truth. Humility, as Rav Kook describes it, balances empowering self-worth and fundamental God-consciousness; combined, these two aspects capture the essence of humility and illuminate the divine light within us.

[1] As translated by Rabbi Ari Ze’ev Schwartz in “The Spiritual Revolution of Rav Kook,” p. 69-70

About the Author
Sruli Fruchter studied for one year at Yeshivat Orayta and is now studying at Yeshiva University. He enjoys writing on a spectrum of topics, including the weekly parsha and the Palestinian-Israel conflict.
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