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Parshat Behaalotecha (5768)

This week we find the only statement in the Torah describing Moses' personality.

"The man Moses was more humble than anyone on the face of the earth" (12:3)

At first glance this is completely not understood.

Moses was probably the greatest leader and certainly the greatest prophet in history. He demonstrated the ultimate in bravery, patience, wisdom, holiness, compassion and much more… why does the Torah praise only his humility?

Even more, what exactly is humility? And why is it so praiseworthy? If it has anything to do with being meek, then in today's success-oriented world it doesn't have much value. Who needs it?

If so, what is the Torah trying to tell us here?

To understand this, here is a story. (HaChozrim B'Tsuva, Klapholtz from Lekutei Deburim #2)

About 250 years ago in the Russian town of Liozne lived a widow with three children, a boy and two girls. She took over her deceased husband's job of running the inn there and gradually married off her children. The two girls remained with their husbands to help her run the inn while her son moved to another town to learn Torah with great scholars.

The husband of one of her daughter's was an intelligent, charming young man by the name of Zev. He had a fine, outgoing personality and was a bit of a Talmudic scholar to boot but he loved attention. At first it was no real problem; in fact it was sort of an asset. People of all sorts came to the inn and he was always around to entertain them with his knowledge and wit.

But the trouble began when a group of priests came there to rest from some journey and he zeroed in on them.

They drew him into conversation and it wasn't long before he was soundly defeating them in a debate on faith and basking in pleasure as they lauded his sharp mind and tongue.

Realizing a good catch when they saw one their visits became more frequent with always the same program; he would lecture eloquently, they would praise him bounteously and be became entangled in their praises like a fly in a web.

Occasionally Rabbis passing through would overhear the conversations and try to pull him aside to warn him that he was playing with fire… but to no avail. He convinced himself that these priests were sincere and truly appreciated his wisdom. So it was no surprise that when they invited him to explain his ideas to the bishop he agreed. And when he returned over a week later it was obvious that although he was winning the debates, he losing his mind… or, even worse, his soul. He seemed detached from the world and totally infatuated with himself; all he talked about was what they said and how he countered until he victoriously answered!

But the 'last straw' was when a group of older and experienced Rabbis happened into the inn and he, full of false pride, began spouting off his ideas to them. As could be expected, they were no where near as enthusiastic as the priests. In fact instead of praising him they gently tried to suggest that perhaps he should learn more before lecturing to his superiors.

The next day he packed some bags, told his wife he had to go somewhere and a few days later she received a letter from him saying he was lecturing to the bishop and other high officials who offered him fame, glory and power if he joined the church.

At first she didn't understand what he was getting at, but when her brother happened to return on a visit from the city where he was learning Torah and saw the letter, he let out a scream, "Zev wants to change his religion!"

The inn suddenly transformed into a house of mourning; everyone was wailing and weeping until the solution popped up, 'We have to go to the Rebbe! Only he can help!!'

The next morning they were standing before Rebbe Shneur Zalman (The first Rebbe of Chabad, author of the books Tanya and Shulchan Aurach HaRav) who was already an older man, and poured out their hearts.

The Rebbe heard them out, put his head down on the table before him, thought for several seconds, raised his head and said.

"I don't know what to do. But I can tell you something that I saw by my teacher the Maggid. [Rabbi Dov Ber of Mezeritz - nicknamed 'The Maggid ('the Preacher') – who was the main pupil and eventually the successor of the Baal Shem Tov].

"Once a distraught woman came to The Maggid. She was weeping and crying that her son went to the church and became a Catholic. She was beside herself with grief and swore that the reason he did so was not because he didn't believe in G-d and the Torah but because he was an egotist and they gave him attention.

"I was there. My holy teacher, the Maggid, thought for a moment, closed his eyes and said a long and deep Chassidic-Kabbalistic explanation about what sin is, how it damages the world and how the damage can be repaired. He then picked ten of his Chassidim and told them to say Psalms for the entire night while thinking of the name of the woman's son. I was one of those pupils and I can tell you that miraculously the next morning the young man came home!"

When Rebbe Shneur Zalman finished talking he closed his eyes and began giving a long explanation about sin. He was obviously repeating the discourse he had heard from his teacher years ago. Then, when he finished he stood and left the room.

The widow and her son understood what they had to do. Immediately they begged the Rebbe's pupils to pick ten among themselves that would be willing to stay up all night and say Psalms for poor Zev.

The pupils agreed and that night the synagogue was filled with the sound of Psalms. In fact the ten pupils got so involved that they barely noticed the stranger with torn garments enter the synagogue at sunrise, take a seat in the back and open a Psalm book. The hood of his coat was pulled over his face but after a few moments everyone realized knew who it was: Zev came back.

Later that day Zev met with Rebbe Shneur Zalman and the day after he and his wife moved to a different town where he could fix his mistake and begin a new life.

This answers out question. Humility means realizing and living the truth, namely that we are creations: G-d creates us with our talents and outstanding qualities, constantly!

And even more; He not only creates us but He wants us to bring out, develop and use all these talents, which are often concealed in our souls, CONSTANTLY to improve the world.

That is why the Torah praised Moses only with humility. Because all his other traits: prophesy, leadership, bravery, patience, wisdom, holiness, compassion etc. were only RESULTS of his humility. Without his devotion to the Creator he would never be open enough to reveal all these traits and use them for good.

But there is something even deeper here.

Like Zev in our story, it is easy to talk about humility, G-d's greatness and 'One'ness etc. etc. and even win debates.

But deep, deep down it is always easier and more 'natural' to be devoted one's own self use our talents for self-aggrandizement (in this world and/or the next) and turn our backs on humility.

This is precisely the reason why the Jews opposed Moses (as we see in this week's Torah reading). And in ensuing generations King David and all the Prophets.

Indeed, humility is so essential to Judaism that the lack of it caused of the sin of the Golden Calf, the destruction of both Holy Temples, the founding of all the 'other' religions (esp. the anti-Semitic 'monotheistic' ones) and all the troubles of the world! (hatred, jealousy war, disease, hunger etc)

The solution is to do all we can to bring Moshiach.

As the Mimonedies writes in the end of his epic 14 volume masterpiece: 'Moshiach will return the Jews to Torah etc. convince all mankind to worship only the Creator and (therefore) at that time there will be no famine, disease, war etc.

And ours is the generation of Moshiach! Just like the Chassidim brought Zev back we can fix all the sins of the past generations! Like in our story we should say Psalms, learn the teachings of the Chassidic Rebbes and do everything we can to humbly DEMAND...

Moshiach NOW!!

Copyright © 1999-2017 Rabbi Tuvia Bolton. All rights reserved. No unauthorized reproduction or copying of this material shall occur without prior permission.

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