Tag Archives: humility

Freeing Prisoners

And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.Luke 4:17-20 (ESV)

Visit the prisoners and bring them some happiness. Even if they are guilty; even if, in your eyes, they deserve whatever misery they have. Bring them joy.

G-d is always with the oppressed. Even if the oppressor is righteous and the oppressed is wicked, our sages tell us, G-d is with the oppressed.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“G-d with the Oppressed”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

He has been sent to proclaim liberty to the captives and to set free the oppressed. When we read these lines Jesus read, citing Isaiah 61:1,2 (see Septuagint) and Isaiah 58:6, we Christians think of ourselves, which I suppose is rather self-centered. We have been set free, if not from the world or our own human natures, at least from being slaves to the values of the world and the complete corruption of the human heart. It’s actually not that simple, since Christians often believe only they (we) can perform good while all of our secular counterparts can do only evil. Yet the just and the unjust can both feed the hungry, give to the poor, and shelter the homeless. Our freedom is to see that we do not serve only ourselves or only other human beings when we do what is good, but we serve God and acknowledge His Kingship over all the earth.

But we were not always free.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die – but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. –Romans 5:6-11 (ESV)

Please keep that in mind. Jesus didn’t die for you (or for me, or for anyone) because you were so cool, but because you were his enemy! I say that because many in the church continue to disdain “sinners” and hold themselves up higher than the human beings who are “unchurched” just because we Christians are “saved by grace.” And yet, many Christians don’t act like they were saved by grace, but rather, they act like they’ve been saved because they were loved by Jesus more than the unsaved (I know…the faulty “logic” confuses me, too).

Really, I’ve met Christians like this. It’s one of the reasons I left the church in which I became a Christian. Self-superiority among many believers is just rampant and it’s appalling.

If we could only look at ourselves as God sees us. What a horrible thing to wish upon anyone.

Oh, you think that you look really terrific to God? By His grace, perhaps, but He can see you, me, and everyone exactly as who we are and who we have been (and who we will be). He saw the good in us and the person He created us to be when we were still slaves to the sin in our hearts and the desire to serve only ourselves. Remember Rabbi Freeman’s advice? Visit the prisoners and bring them some happiness. Even if they are guilty; even if, in your eyes, they deserve whatever misery they have. Bring them joy.

Haven’t we all been guilty? Haven’t we all deserved whatever misery from which we suffered? Didn’t we cause Jesus to suffer and die because of our guilt? And yet God “visited” us when we were prisoners, guilty though we were and brought us the joy of the Good News. Now that we who were oppressed have been set free, and we who were poor in spirit have had the Gospel proclaimed to us, instead of condemning those who continue to be guilty, shouldn’t we proclaim freedom for them as well? And if you do and if you are rebuffed and ridiculed for your faith, should you then rebuff those who treat you poorly, or should you pity them? If you return bad for bad, are you not declaring that you are just as blind as those to whom you offer a lamp?

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. –Romans 12:14-21 (ESV)

Our righteous shepherd desires that we do kindness, mercy, and justice to those around us, as we have received it from him. Dr. Tsvi Sadan, in his soon to be released book The Concealed Light, shows us a different application of the name shepherd (ro’eh) for the Messiah (pp 222-23), particularly when we, who claim the name of Christ, treat his people Israel as if they are prisoners who will never be redeemed, and as if the Jews are no longer his own sheep.

It is Ezekiel who hears God speak of Messiah as the Shepherd (ro’eh): “I will establish one shepherd over them, and he shall feed them – My servant David. He shall feed them and be their shepherd” (Ezekiel 34:23). This Shepherd – “my servant David” – is seen by the Zohar as Shiloh, the “Faithful Shepherd,” who will deal decisively with Israel’s enemies (Zohar, Pinchas, 246b).

In his book “Em HaBanim Smechah,” Rabbi Issachar Shlomo Teichtal (murdered by the Nazis in 1944) had this to say about the religious leaders of the Jews of his day: “Who will accept responsibility for the innocent blood that has been spilled in our days? It seems to me that all the leaders who prevented the people of Israel from joining the builders [of the land of Israel] cannot cleanse their hands and say, ‘Our hands did not spill this blood!'” (21-22). Rabbi Teichtal wrote this book while hiding from the SS search parties for three years. The remarkable fact is that he cites from memory countless passages from Scripture and Jewish sources, some of which are aimed at explaining his bitter complaint about those Jewish leaders whose approach, “it is preferable to sit and do nothing,” discouraged Jews from immigrating to Israel, thus leaving them to die by the millions in hostile Europe.

In light of these sobering words, the Shepherd of Israel will do what generations of shepherds could not do; namely, he will gather the sheep from the nations to Israel. Then he “will compel them to do justice and righteousness and then he will become their shepherd, meaning that they will accept his reign and will learn from him until they willingly receive him as their shepherd” (Malbim to Ezekiel 34:23).

If this is true of Messiah, the Shepherd of Israel and his people the Jews, shouldn’t we, his Gentile disciples also “do justice and righteousness” to those in our midst and not reject the unsaved among us? And specifically, shouldn’t we support the in-gathering of the Jewish people to Israel from the nations and not disdain them or the mission of the Shepherd to restore the Jews to their land?

Learn to be at peace with others who are unlike you and be at peace with Israel, the Shepherd’s sheep, and the prisoner you will be freeing will be yourself.

This is the “morning meditation” that will be published on Purim (I’m writing this the day before), a celebration of freedom from certain death for the Jews. Certainly God has visited the “prisoner” and announced the good news of life to Israel, bringing great joy to His people. Let us rejoice with them on this day, and in anticipation of His bringing an even greater freedom to Israel and to the nations in the person of the Messiah.

“Peace is not the absence of affliction, but the presence of God.” -Anonymous

Chag Sameach Purim.

In Silence Like Sheep

Today’s daf discusses the halachos that apply to a person who has shamed his fellow Jew.

Rav Raphael of Barshad, zt”l, was always careful to see the good in every Jew. Judging others favorably was part of his very nature. Another important characteristic of Rav Raphael was that he was always happy when embarrassed by others. To him, this was the biggest favor that one can receive from anyone. The Ramak, zt”l, writes in Tomer Devorah, that since being shamed is likened to being killed, one who is silent in the face of humiliation has atoned for all of his sins. Like dying, even the worst sins are wiped away if one endures disgrace quietly.

The Ramak adjures people to take this to heart. “Everyone falls short in one way or the other and requires atonement for his failings. What is better? To suffer pain and illness—which cause a person to lose precious time from learning—or to be shamed? Enduring humiliation is a matter of having the right attitude and truly understanding that the humiliation has saved him from much worse. If one achieves this understanding he will not hold it against the person who shamed him. On the contrary, he received a gift from the one who embarrassed him.”

When people would come to Rav Raphael about having endured shame, he would explain the greatness of enduring embarrassment and that this had saved the person much worse troubles. When the person was consoled, he would laugh with pure joy and say, “How wonderful!”

Daf Yomi Digest
Stories Off the Daf
“A Silent Atonement”
Arachin 14

Periodically, I experience some rather impassioned arguments happening in the comments sections of various blog posts. I don’t mind and even encourage spirited debate, but there were moments when that “spirit” crosses the line into insult and harm. We cannot behave like this as disciples of the Master and this is clear disobedience of his commandment for us to love one another (John 13:34). I know what it is to get a “head of steam up” in an argument and to lose sight of what I’m trying to express and why. In that moment, all that really seems to matter is to prove my point and to show “the other guy” that they are in error. Sometimes it may seem really is important to point out an error made in understanding our faith, but at what cost? Is it worth promoting resentment and division in the body of Messiah? Must we always have the loudest voice?

When reading the commentary on the Daf, I was immediately captured by how much this seems to describe Jesus. I doubt the author meant to create such a parallel, but for the Christian, it is unavoidable.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth. –Isaiah 53:7 (ESV)

And the high priest stood up and said, “Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?” But Jesus remained silent. –Matthew 26:62-63 (ESV)

How many of us would remain silent in such a situation? How many of us, even knowing what was at stake, would fail to vigorously defend ourselves against these unfair charges and attempt with all our might to avoid a death sentence and execution on the cross? And yet, in a way, we are commanded to do exactly that: to accept even death in silence, enduring everything for our Master’s sake.

But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. –Matthew 5:39 (ESV)

And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” –Luke 9:23 (ESV)

Recall the commentary from today’s Daf which says that insulting someone is the same as murdering them (and I’ve written about this recently), and that enduring an insult in silence is as if you died and have atoned for all of your sins. I realize that Talmudic midrash is not to be taken as literal fact, but Jesus did endure his own murder in silence and in fact, his death did atone for the sins of the world. It’s all right there, if we’ll only pay attention.

We all like to say that we want to “be like Jesus.” For most of us, that doesn’t mean literally dying a horrible and torturous death for the sake of others, but it does mean enduring many insults for the sake of Christ. He even said this would happen to us.

Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. –Matthew 10:21-22 (ESV)

So did James.

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. –James 1:2-4 (ESV)

Can you see why the Jewish lens often illuminates the words of the Jewish Messiah, even without apparent intent? And yet there are those who are uncomfortable with the way I choose to view my Master, and some even insist that the Jewish perspective is not only worthless, but has long sense been wiped away and replaced by the singular and wholly “un-Jewish” Christian interpretation. However, I do not want even this point to be the cause of divisiveness between brothers in the Messiah. There is much value in offering consideration for one another for the sake of peace.

“They said of Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai that no man ever greeted him first, even idol worshippers in the market” [i.e., Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai was the first to greet every person, even idol worshippers] (Berachot 17). At the same location the sage Abaye advocated soft speech and words of peace to everyone, especially including idol worshippers.

“[it is proper to] support the idol worshippers during the sabbatical year… and to inquire after their welfare [commentators: even on the days of the holidays of their idols, even if they do not keep the seven Noahide commandments] because of the ways of peace.” (Shevi’it 4,3)

The rabbis taught: ‘We support poor Gentiles with the poor people of Israel, and we visit sick Gentiles as well as the sick of Israel and we bury the dead of the Gentiles as well as the dead of Israel, because of the ways of peace.” (Gitin 61a)

the-joy-of-torahAs a Christian, part of how I approach the ways of peace between me and Jewish people is to attempt to understand what Judaism means to a Jew, to the best of my meager ability. Taking joy in the Jewish people and in Judaism may be what the Jewish Messiah himself did as he gazed longingly at Jerusalem, anticipating the final salvation of Israel (Matthew 23:37-38). What he said began in sorrow and dismay, but will one day conclude in great happiness, as we see in the words of Rabbi Tzvi Freeman:

This is the meaning of a Jew and Judaism, the very meaning of the word: To live in a state of sustained wonder. To know that there are things beyond human grasp. That the very existence of anything at all is beyond knowing. And then to strive to know.

Let us endure much in silence and humility for the sake of our brothers and for the Messiah, that we may one day know what is beyond knowing, and shout in brotherly joy at the feast of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Matthew 8:11).

You are the God Who works wonders, You manifested Your might among the nations. With Your powerful arm You redeemed Your nation, the sons of Jacob and Joseph, Selah. –Psalm 77:15-16 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

The New Testament is Not in Heaven

It is taught: On that day R. Eliezer brought forward every imaginable argument, but the Sages did not accept any of them. Finally he said to them: “If the Halakhah (religious law) is in accordance with me, let this carob tree prove it!” Sure enough the carob tree immediately uprooted itself and moved one hundred cubits, and some say 400 cubits, from its place. “No proof can be brought from a carob tree,” they retorted.

And again he said to them “If the Halakhah agrees with me, let the channel of water prove it!” Sure enough, the channel of water flowed backward. “No proof can be brought from a channel of water,” they rejoined.

Again he urged, “If the Halakhah agrees with me, let the walls of the house of study prove it!” Sure enough, the walls tilted as if to fall. But R. Joshua, rebuked the walls, saying, “When disciples of the wise are engaged in a halakhic dispute, what right have you to interfere?” Hence in deference to R. Joshua they did not fall and in deference to R. Eliezer they did not resume their upright position; they are still standing aslant.

Again R. Eliezer then said to the Sages, “If the Halakhah agrees with me, let it be proved from heaven.” Sure enough, a divine voice cried out, “Why do you dispute with R. Eliezer, with whom the Halakhah always agrees?” R. Joshua stood up and protested: “The Torah is not in heaven!” (Deut. 30:12). We pay no attention to a divine voice because long ago at Mount Sinai You wrote in your Torah at Mount Sinai, `After the majority must one incline’. (Ex. 23:2)”

R. Nathan met [the prophet] Elijah and asked him, “What did the Holy One do at that moment?” Elijah: “He laughed [with joy], saying, ‘My children have defeated Me, My children have defeated Me.'”

Baba Tetzia 59b as quoted at jhom.com

If you’re not an observant Jew or otherwise don’t have the benefit of a classic Jewish religious education, the comments I’ve just quoted may seem completely alien to you. If you are a Christian and understand the implications of what is being said, you are probably offended right now. Why would you be offended? Because this teaching from the Talmud justifies the Rabbinic authority to interpret Torah. “The Torah is not in Heaven” means that the Torah was revealed but not interpreted by the Prophets or even by God and His miracles, but by learned study, decision-making, and legal rulings.

Within this context, that seems to mean that man’s word trumps God’s authority. What a shocking thing to say, but it explains much about Judaism and why the Jewish understanding of God and the Bible is fundamentally different than Christianity.

Is this just some colossal conceit on the part of Judaism to dare override the word of God and to impose man’s wisdom and authority over the Creator? From a superficial point of view, I’m sure it seems that way. And yet, though Christianity, including many factions of the “Messianic” movement, believe they are following the pure and uninfluenced “Word of God” and the teachings of Jesus Christ by shunning Talmudic principals, in fact, the vast majority of what Christians consider God’s unalterable truth was established by the so-called “church Fathers” in the first three centuries of the Common Era. Unfortunately, this coincides with the rejection of Jewish leadership from the early church and the ghastly birth of supersessionist theology, with the non-Jewish believers commandeering all of God’s covenant promises to the Jewish people for the church alone.

If God spoke from heaven (Bat Kol) to the Christian church, explained to us that our treatment of the Jewish people has been terribly wrong during the past 2,000 years, and demanded that we make immediate reparations to His chosen people, would not the church respond with its own version of “the New Testament is not in Heaven?” Would we not say that, according to our own interpretation of the Bible and the rulings of our “judges and fathers” that how we Christians have persecuted and maligned the Jews throughout the history of the church has been correct? Would we attempt to “defeat” God in that manner? In fact, that’s exactly what Christianity has done.

In this instance, I’m not so much arguing for Rabbinic authority as against Christian hypocracy. We Christians say that the Jews have no right or authority to interpret God’s Torah as they do and yet the church does exactly the same thing. We just dress it up differently and pretend we’re obeying the Word of God rather than our own willful judgments. We quote scripture to back up our claims, all the while knowing that even the Adversary has done this to justify his causes (see Matthew 4:1-11).

An anonymous person on Judah Himango’s blog was deriding the celebration of Christmas by believers recently and said the following:

It’s not about what I think or you think as mush [sic] as it is about what YHWH’s word says and what Yeshua did. Yeshua is the Living Word, it is in His Way we want to follow…

The fallacy expressed here is that the commenter believes he or she doesn’t interpret the Bible but literally follows its instructions. I’ve already written my Christmas blog (OK, I wrote it twice), so I’m not going to debate that whole thing again, but I want to make the point that we all interpret the Bible and that (in my humble opinion) no one has the inside track and the complete lock on what the Bible does and doesn’t say to Judaism, Christianity, and mankind. We’re all dancing madly on the head of a pin trying not to fall off or get skewered. We read the Bible, we study, we pray, we go to classes, we search the Internet, we attempt to glean wisdom and understanding, but in the end, even within the church, we are hopelessly fragmented about the overarching message of the scriptures. We Christians don’t even realize that, when we incorporated the Jewish Tanakh into our Holy Book as the “Old Testament”, we accepted the placement of sentences, capitalization, punctuation, and for the most part, organization of chapters and verses, and all of that was not determined in the original scrolls but by Jewish Rabbinic tradition!

At some point, just because we don’t want to go insane or leave our faith in disgust and dispair, we make a decision based on tradition, what our family did, what our family didn’t do, or the passion we see in a particular branch of one religion or another, and we say to ourselves, “this is it!” We say, “this is what God wants me to do!” Of course, that’s what everyone tells themselves when they make a spiritual decision, regardless of what denomination of Christianity they settle into, or into what branch of Judaism they subscribe.

I remember reading somewhere that when the Third Temple (see the Book of Ezekiel) is built, God will build it Himself and then deliver it to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem from Heaven (not unlike Revelation 21:1-3)…all except the doors. I read somewhere that in ancient times, hanging the doors on a structure was a legal act and determined ownership of the place. Hanging the doors was usually the last act in construction and even if a person built an entire house by himself, if someone came in the night and hung the doors, that person owned the house, not the builder.

I can’t remember where I read all this but bear with me. This is important.

When God delivers the New Temple from Heaven (I know this is midrash and events may not actually happen this way, but let’s go with it for now), it will be complete, except the doors will be missing. Why will the doors be missing? Because God will require man to hang the doors. Man must take ownership of his relationship with God and his duties to God as expressed in the Temple. If humanity, with the Jewish people administering Temple worship “as in days of old and as in former years” (Malachi 3:4) don’t take ownership of their relationship with God, then we have no relationship with God. We’re just wind-up toy soldiers playing a part in some lifeless version of The Nutcracker Suite (which by the way, my wife and daughter saw again just the other night and adored); robots acting out the will of God but taking no “partnership” role in that will.

I’m not talking about rebelling against God or attempting to override His authority or sovereign will, but behaving as participating junior members of Creation with God. I’ve mentioned the principle of tikkun olam (repairing the world) many times before and in order to fulfill this mandate, we have to take an active role with God in this work. To do that, we must take a form of ownership over our role as agents of God and over our understanding of His Word to us. That means taking the risk of being wrong, but doing our best anyway, to understand the infinite and unique One God, and to proceed with faith and courage.

If we are honest with ourselves and God, we should have already admitted that we’ve gotten something wrong and misunderstood God’s intent in many areas of our lives. That shouldn’t stop us from doing our best to live as holy people, but it should stop us from judging others. It should also absolutely stop us from believing that our particular brand of religion has it right while everyone else has it wrong.

It is said that God has two attributes: the attribute of Justice and the attribute of Mercy. If God created the world with more Justice than Mercy, no one would survive since no one is righteous (Romans 3:10). If God created the world with more Mercy than Justice, then we would all literally get away with murder and there would be no Judge. If He created the world with absolutely equal parts, we would all have only one chance to “get it right” the first time and then no more. God’s solution was to create the world with just a tiny bit more Mercy than Justice and that’s the world we live in today (though we’ve managed to break it since Creation). There will be a final judgment in the end, but God also allows us to make foolish mistakes, as a patient father allows a small child to stumble while trying to walk. He doesn’t expect perfection and knows we are far from capable of achieving His perfect expectations, but He does desire that we struggle with the questions about our relationship with the Divine that are always on the verge of driving us mad.

But if He is so merciful to us, why do we dare judge our fellows so harshly against our own limited and miserly standards (and make no mistake, when we judge others by our interpretation of the Bible, we are almost always using our standards and not God’s)? Have we not heard that He will forgive our transgressions in the same manner as we have forgiven those who have transgressed against us (Matthew 6:12)? Do we not believe that if God were to judge us the way we judge others, we would all be lost forever? Have we not asked ourselves “when the Son of Man returns will he find faith (Luke 18:8)?”

And yet some of us choose to employ the celebration of Christmas by others as a iron rod to beat our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ into a bloody pulp. Even if God were to judge those who adhere to the celebration of the birth of the Savior as “wrong”, it is His right to do so, not ours. Even if God were to judge those Jews who adhere to the rulings of the Rabbnic sages as “wrong”, it is His right to do so, not ours. If God has truly ruled that the Torah (and the New Testament) is not in Heaven, but was given to man to administer, then what we loose here on Earth is also loosed in Heaven (Matthew 18:18). In this, we are doing our imperfect best to join with God in being good stewards of Creation by influencing, with God, both Heaven and Earth.

If you get nothing else from this morning’s meditation, please, please take a pair of tweezers, go to your bathroom mirror, and practice pulling that huge piece of lumber out of your eye, before attempting to perform major optical surgery to remove the virtually microscopic speck in your neighbor’s eye.

The Humility of Our Fathers

HumilityBe humble before every manEthics of Our Fathers, 4:10

Is there no one out there who is dumber, uglier or more selfish than yourself? Okay, discount the few dozen degrees of inferiority that are due to your ego-inflated self-perception. Still, is there no one on earth who is less worthy than you?

So what does it mean to “be humble before every man”? Is the Mishnah telling us that it is our moral duty to underrate ourselves?

To do so would be a sinful waste of our G-d-given talents, which can never be optimally realized unless we are aware and appreciative of what we have been given and what we have accomplished. In the words of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak of Lubavitch: “Just as it is imperative that a person recognize his own shortcomings, it is no less crucial that he recognize his advantages and strengths.”

How, then, does a person make a true evaluation of himself, for the worse and for the better, and at the same time experience a genuine feeling of humility before every other individual?

ETHICS OF OUR FATHERS: Humility: Two Definitions (Chapter 4)
Sivan 27, 5771 * June 29, 2011

Now the man Moses was very humble, more than any man who was on the face of the earth.Numbers 12:3

@soulsupply: 2day #JESUS must increase and I must decrease – Jn 3:30 -from Twitter

I’m sure this topic has been well documented in Jewish and Christian circles already, but as must as it is discussed, the humility of the faithful never seems to be settled. It’s still something of a mystery, at least on the surface, how Moses, a man who led millions of people for over forty years, and who has been revered by the Jewish people for 3500 years up to this very day, can be called the most humble person of “any man who was on the face of the earth”. It would seem as if humility before all men and demonstrating leadership, assertiveness, and authority would be all but mutually exclusive.

On the other hand, we have this:

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. –Matthew 11:29

Whether you are a Christian or not, it’s virtually impossible to avoid the fact that Jesus is one of the most influential people who has ever existed in the history of humanity. You can find people who have heard something about Jesus almost anywhere on the planet. Even people belonging to religions greatly opposed to Jesus and people who are agnostics and atheists have heard of Jesus. His words are quoted in the most secular publications and everyone from wise men to corporate CEOs have studied how his teachings have inspired millions. How can you call the King of King and the Lord of Lords “gentle and humble in heart”, especially in the light of the following?

I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written, King of Kings and Lord of Lords. –Revelation 19:11-16

Both Moses and Jesus are described as humble. Both Moses and Jesus command great authority and demand unbounded respect. How can these things go together and especially, how can these things go together in us? The Chabad commentary takes a closer look.

The humble man looks at the larger picture rather than the particulars, at the unified purpose of life on earth rather than only at his function within this purpose. No matter how lofty his own role may seem in relation to his fellow’s, he is grossly limited without him. The knowledge that his own life’s work is incomplete without his fellow’s contribution will arouse feelings of humility and indebtedness toward his fellow: he recognizes that even the coarsest “limb” of the mutual body fulfills a deficiency in himself.

One way to look at humility is that, no matter how many good and fine qualities you possess, including great leadership skills, you don’t stand alone. You are a part of a greater whole and without the other members of that whole, you would not be “great” or “accomplished” or “skilled”. Paul said it this way:

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. –1 Corinthians 12:21-26

Continuing with the Chabad commentary:

In this approach, humility is not equated with a sense of inferiority. Rather, it stems from a feeling of equality and mutual need. In becoming humble, a person first realizes that any greater measure of intelligence, refinement, spiritual sensitivity, etc., that he may divine in himself in relation to his fellow is nothing to feel superior about: these are only the tools that have been granted him for his individual role. He also recognizes the limitations of his own accomplishments, and the manner in which they are fulfilled and perfected by the “body’s” other organs and limbs. So he is humbled by the ability of his inferior fellow to extend and apply their shared mission on earth to areas that lie beyond his individual reach.

You can be humble when you realize that, even if you are the “brain” or the “heart” of the body, you need the foot, the spleen, the fingernail, and every other part in order to be whole and well. Once you realize that, you can be humble and grateful for the other parts of the body. You aren’t any less an important body part just because other body parts exist. The brain might feel mighty important until a hammer smashes into one of the thumbs.

The commentary has another way to look at this matter, though:

The second approach, however, defines “humility” in the more commonplace sense – as a feeling of inferiority in relation to one’s fellow. How is this truly and truthfully achieved in relation to every man? By conducting a thorough evaluation and critique of his own moral and spiritual standing. In doing so, one is certain to find areas where he has failed to prove equal to what is expected of him. That his fellow may be guilty of the same or worse is irrelevant: concerning his fellow’s behavior he is in no position to judge. “Do not judge your fellow until you are in his place” say our sages, for you have no way of knowing how his nature, his background, and the circumstances surrounding any given deed may have influenced his behavior. However, regarding your own behavior you are “in his (i.e., your own) place” and in a position to know that, despite all the excuses and justifications you may have, you could have done better. With such an approach, a person will “be humble before every man” in the most literal sense of the term, perceiving his every fellow as superior to himself.

HumbleThis is probably the less comfortable of the two approaches because it requires that you deliberately make yourself of lesser importance than others, even when, objectively speaking, you may not be. However, the Master, near the end of his life among men, showed us an example of that, too:

The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. –John 13:2-5

In Shakespeare’s play Henry V, the young King disguises himself as a commoner speak to his soldiers before battle and to learn to understand the thoughts and feelings of his subjects. While Jesus wasn’t “in disguise” (unless you consider that during his First Century life, he appeared, not as King, but as teacher and “shepherd”), he did perform a servant’s task to illustrate a point. This doesn’t mean he was being insincere; I truly believe Jesus did live out the life of a servant and, even though he did not have to take the position of virtual slave to his disciples in washing their feet, he was trying to communicate, not only that they should follow his example, but that he really was a servant of all people, “even unto death”.

Considering yourself worthless and uninteresting isn’t humility and neither is feeling superior to others. Wallowing in your failures shouldn’t define your entire existence and neither should basking in your highest successes. All of this is part of you and two of the most difficult temptations to resist is the temptation to feel irredeemable when you fail terribly, and the temptation to brag and lord it over others when you achieve your greatest success. Everything in-between those two extremes is who you really are. When you can bring your failures and your successes to the meeting table, introduce them to each other, and teach them to co-exist in a unified life, then you will be actually, realistically, and successfully humble.

If, as disciples of Jesus, we are supposed to learn his teachings by imitating him, then humility, not self-denigration, is a lesson we dare not ignore. Far from being a liability, humility connects us to the source of our most profound strength.

Ben Zoma would say: Who is wise? One who learns from every man. As is stated: “From all my teachers I have grown wise, for Your testimonials are my meditation.”

Who is strong? One who overpowers his inclinations. As is stated, “Better one who is slow to anger than one with might, one who rules his spirit than the captor of a city.”

Who is rich? One who is satisfied with his lot. As is stated: “If you eat of toil of your hands, fortunate are you, and good is to you” ; “fortunate are you” in this world, “and good is to you”—in the World to Come.

Who is honorable, one who honors his fellows. As is stated: “For to those who honor me, I accord honor; those who scorn me shall be demeaned.”

Ethics of Our Fathers 4:1