Jewish Philosophy

A Lesson in Humility
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Friday 21st March 2014

From the stories of the great leaders in the Torah, many important and life changing lessons can be learned. The Torah begins with a narrative of history; the history of the world, mankind and the Jewish nation specifically. One of the reasons for detailing this past is to encourage us to learn from the actions of our forefathers, using their deeds as examples to apply to our own lives.

Within the relationship between Moshe and Aharon, we see an incredible dynamic that emphasises the trait of humility (anavah). Moshe is described by the Torah as the greatest prophet that ever lived (Devarim 34:10). He is seen as the saviour of the Jewish Nation and he also had the clearest, closest relationship with G-d (see Bemidbar 12:8).
Yet Aharon was the older brother. Some of the miracles in Egypt were actually performed through Aharon, rather than Moshe. On several occasions, we even find his name appearing first, before Moshe’s name. This indicates a certain equality between them. How did they view themselves?

In this week’s sidrah, Rashi writes (9:23) that Moshe thought that Aharon was superior and that it was in Aharon’s merit that G-d’s presence (Shechinah) rested amongst the Jews. This was a display of Moshe’s humility. He had every reason to feel that he was the greatest, to feel that it was through his leadership of the nation that they were bought out of Egypt and to Mount Sinai.

Yet instead he turned the attention to Aharon. The Shem Mishmuel (by Rabbi Shmuel Bornsztain d. 1926) explains that Moshe reached true humility because even in his own greatness, he realised that compared to G-d, he was nothing; his actions were insignificant next to everything that G-d had done.

We also see Aharon displaying this quality just a few verses later. With the inaugural Temple service in full swing, the sons of Aharon, Nadav and Avihu, were killed for performing a highly unauthorised action. Despite the descent from elation to severe grief, Aharon fell silent and accepted G-d’s decree. The Talmud (Brachot 54a) says that one must praise G-d for the bad as well as for the good. The contemporary American Rabbi and psychiatrist, Dr. Abraham J. Twerski, (Founder and Director of Gateway Rehabilitation Centre) uses this dictum to explain that Aharon’s silence was coming from a place of acceptance, not numbness. Aharon knew his own limitations; he knew that G-d had His reasons. Within his grief, he found his faith (emunah) strengthened. His acceptance was a sign of his humility.

Both Moshe and Aharon acted with true humility, sourced from a complete acceptance that G-d is in charge. For us, the lesson is simple. We are a people of achievers, and this should always be encouraged. Yet we must always, as mere mortals, realise that we are sometimes bound by our limitations.


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