Tag Archives: Moses

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


The burning bushNow Moses, tending the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian, drove the flock into the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a blazing fire out of a bush. He gazed, and there was a bush all aflame, yet the bush was not consumed. Moses said, “I must turn aside to look at this marvelous sight; why doesn’t the bush burn up?” When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to look, God called to him out of the bush: “Moses! Moses!” He answered, “Here I am.” And He said, “Do not come closer. Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you stand is holy ground. I am,” He said, “the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.Exodus 3:1-6 (JPS Tanakh)

A spark of G-d slumbers within, as a flame hushed within the embers.

Will she awaken from ideas? They are only more dreams to sleep by.

Will she awaken from deep thoughts? Their depth will not reach her.

She will awaken when she sees her Beloved, the Essence of All Things with which she is one.

And where will she see Him? Not in ideas, not in deep thoughts, but in a G-dly deed that she will do, in an act of infinite beauty.

Then her flame will burn bright.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Waking Up G-d”

Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD rises upon you.Isaiah 60:1

In Christianity, faith is largely a matter of contemplation; the private and internal consideration of God and a person’s prayers in the name of Jesus. In Judaism, faith is not a matter of thought but of action. Yes, Judaism places a very high value on Torah study, but the study, in and of itself, isn’t meaningful unless put into action.

What was happening with Moses, the shepherd of his father-in-law’s flocks in Midian? Probably not much during those forty years. There’s no indication that he considered the plight of his parents, his brother, and sister, and the other Israelites in their Egyptian captivity. There is certainly nothing recorded in Exodus saying Moses was planning to do anything about the slavery of his people. Yet, as Rabbi Freemen tells us, there’s a fire sleeping inside.

In the case of Moses, the “fire” literally appeared before him and the voice of God called out, commanding Moses into action. What about the fire and voice inside of you…or me?

No matter how much you distrust your own sincerity or question your motives, there is no trace of doubt that at your core lives a G-dly soul, pure and sincere.

You provide the actions and the deed. She needs no more than a pinhole through which to break out and fill those deeds with Divine power.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“The Promise Inside”

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. –James 2:14-17

Both Rabbi Freeman and James, the brother of the Master, remind us that concealing our faith and devotion to God inside is not faith or devotion at all. The Master himself reminds us that hiding our faith from the world illuminates no one (Matthew 5:14-16), probably not even ourselves. Nothing about who we are as disciples of our Master and children of God matters unless we shine our light into the world and extend our faith into the realm of deeds and actions. We are known by our fruit, not by the root that no one can see.

Dawn“Light” can take many forms. We can donate to worthy causes, volunteer our time feeding the hungry, visit the sick in the hospital, sing inspirational songs, speak of the Bible to our children and our children’s children, even write blogs, articles, and books spreading the good news of the Christ and the glory of God. Light under a bowl does not pierce the darkness and salt that loses its flavor gets thrown away. Living a meaningful life means that you have to actively live in the world, letting the fire inside yield its heat and light to everyone around you.

By acknowledging that within your body is a G-dly soul, a soul that can give your life purpose and lift it above the mundane pursuits of everyday life, you begin to put the pieces of your fragmented life in order.

from Toward a Meaningful Life: The Wisdom of the Rebbe
by Simon Jacobson
based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, of righteous memory.

In a previous blog post, I quoted from a commentary on Menachos 89 which says:

Mishnah Berurah writes that according to Kabbalists the primary time for Torah study is from chatzos until the onset of the morning. Shulchan Aruch HaRav writes that at the very least one should arise before morning to learn for some period of time at the end of the night.

The intent of my “morning meditations” is to offer something for you and for me that we can contemplate and then put into action as we start our day. I sometimes write my meditations before going to bed and study them right when I wake up. In the summer, the light of dawn is only slowly changing the horizon from black to grey as my thoughts and my spirit take in the words of the Master, the prophets, the apostles, and the sages.

The Gemara cites the verse in Tehillim (134:1) that mentions those who stand in Hashem’s house at night and R’ Yochanan explains that the verse refers to Torah scholars who engage in Torah study at night and the verse considers it as if they were involved in service of the Beis HaMikdash. The Gemara then cites a verse from Divrei HaYamim (II 2:2-3) and R’ Yochanan explains that this verse also refers to Torah scholars who study the halachos of service of the Beis HaMikdash and the verse considers it as though the Beis HaMikdash was rebuilt in their days. Sefer HoEshkol cites Rav Hai Gaon who notes that the two teachings of R’ Yochanan are juxtaposed to one another to teach that Torah scholars are obligated to study Torah at night and specifically the topic of korbanos. The implication of this teaching is that one who engages in the study of korbanos at night is considered as though the Beis HaMikdash was rebuilt in his days and he offered korbanos there.

Daf Yomi Digest
Halacha Highlight
“Reading korbanos at night”
Menachos 110

By the time the sun is hot and bright in the morning sky, I pray that the fire of God is burning even brighter in your heart and in mine.

Wake up.

Two Sons

Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the Lord: Israel is My first-born son”.Exodus 4:22 (JPS Tanakh )

All Israel has a share in the World to Come, as is stated: “And your people are all righteous; they shall inherit the land forever. They are the shoot of My planting, the work of My hands, in which I take pride.”Sanhedrin, 11:1

In what way is G-d our “father”? There are, of course, the obvious parallels. G-d creates us and provides us with sustenance and direction. He loves us with the boundless, all-forgiving love of a father.

Chassidic teaching delves further into the metaphor. It examines the biological and psychological dynamics of the father-child model, and employs them to better understand our relationship to each other and to our Father in Heaven.

Physically, what began in the father’s body and psyche is now a separate, distinct and (eventually) independent individual. Yet there is a good reason we say, “Like father like son.” On a deeper level, the child remains inseparable from his begetter.

In the words of the Talmud, “A son is a limb of his father.” At the very heart of his consciousness lies an inescapable truth: he is his father’s child, an extension of his being, a projection of his personality. In body, they have become two distinct entities; in essence they are one.

-from “The Awareness Factor”
Minding the Child: The Soul of a Metaphor commentary on
Ethics of Our Fathers (Avot Pirkei)
Chabad.org | Sivan 7, 5771 * June 9, 2011

Israel, the Jewish people, is the first-born son of God. The Father has lavished great love and blessings upon the son, and even when the son was disobedient and burdened with exile, persecution, and extreme hardships, God’s love never wavered. When Jacob and his family went down into Egypt, an act which ultimately would see the Children of Israel become slaves (Genesis 46:3-4), God went down with them. It is said that God went into exile with the Jews after the destruction of the Second Temple and the exile of His people from Israel. It is said that when the Jews went into the camps, Auschwitz-Birkenau, Dachau, Treblinka, and all the others, God went in with His people. God has “suffered” with his first-born son Israel for thousands of years because of His love of them and now He is bringing them back.

But what about the rest of us? Can the nations claim any “sonship” before God, and if so, under what circumstances?

It depends on who you ask.

The Seven Laws of Noah demonstrate that almighty G-d has rules and laws for all human beings …and that G-d loves us all. He does not leave anyone, Jew or non-Jew without guidance. To the non-Jew He has given the Seven Commandments.

-from noahide.org

To the Jewish people G-d gave the entire Torah [teaching] as their Law. They therefore have a special responsibility—with special commandments—to be the priesthood of the world, a “light unto the nations.”

What about the rest of the world? What is G-d’s will for them?

G-d gave Noah and all his descendants (B’nei Noach or “children of Noah”) seven commandments to obey. These seven universal laws (known as the “Seven Noahide Laws”) were reaffirmed with Moses and the Jewish people at Mt. Sinai in what is now known as the Oral Torah, establishing modern observance of these laws. These seven commandments (mitzvos), actually seven categories of hundreds of specific laws, are G-d’s will for all non-Jews.

-from noahide.com

The vast majority of the Jewish world believes that all of humanity is loved and cherished by God and may merit a place in the world to come if they obey God’s commandments to them. The Children of Israel have a very special covenant status in relation to God with equally special duties and responsibilities, but that doesn’t leave the rest of humanity out in the cold. While the Children of Israel were charged with being “a light to the nations”, we, the nations, were charged with being attracted to and learning from “the light” that our responsibilities to God (perhaps as “second-born sons”) are encompassed in the Seven Laws of Noah. The first-born son is “B’nei Yisrael” (the Children of Israel) and those of us who cling to God and conform to the Noahide commandments are considered “B’nei Noach” (Children of Noah).

The Christian viewpoint regarding non-Jewish “sonship” differs quite a bit. Judaism says that a non-Jew doesn’t have to convert to Judaism to be loved and cared for by God. Christianity requires that everyone, even Jews (who already have a covenant relationship with the Creator) must convert to Christianity and in the process, surrender the Mosaic covenant for a “better” one, abandoning all that it is to be a Jew. Only once you convert to Christianity, whether you’re a Jew or otherwise, are you truly included in God’s love.

I know. It doesn’t make much sense to me, either.

Yet, Jesus did bring the non-Jews something special and unique that we cannot possess otherwise, even as B’nei Noach.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will… –Ephesians 1:3-5

I can’t read ancient Greek (or modern Greek for that matter), but I’ll accept the biblegateway.com commentary on Ephesians 1:5 that the “Greek word for adoption to sonship is a legal term referring to the full legal standing of an adopted male heir in Roman culture”. Since Paul wouldn’t consider that the Jewish people needed to be “adopted” by God since they are His “first-born son”, then in this context, Paul must be writing to a non-Jewish group of Christian disciples.

Through the process of coming to faith in God by trusting in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, anyone can become an adopted child of the Most High as a full covenant member. This does not mean a full covenant member of the Mosaic covenant, the Torah and its 613 commandments, but it does grant us a special status to approach the throne, side-by-side, with our Jewish “older brother”.

Most Jews don’t see it that way, and given the heinous treatment of the Jews by the church over the last two thousand years or so, I don’t blame them. Nevertheless, as Christians, here we are, and by faith and God’s providence, here we stay. We can learn from our mistakes and repent, give glory to God, and remember that the Jews honored and cherished the Torah, the Shabbat, and God’s sovereignty for several millennium, while the non-Jewish nations were bowing to pieces of wood and stone and passing their children through sacrificial fires.

“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ So he got up and went to his father.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate. –Luke 15:17-24

This parable is typically (and correctly) interpreted as Christ’s desire to redeem “the lost sheep of Israel” and not a commentary on the “unsaved” nations, but please permit me to add a personal understanding.

While the Children of Israel were close to God, the rest of us were far off if, for no other reason, than we had not even heard of the God of Israel. We see examples in the Apostolic scriptures (Acts 10:1-3 and Acts 17:10-12, for example) of those non-Jews who did hear of and come to faith in the God of Israel and who worshiped at synagogues as “God-fearers” (Noahides?) but we have every indication that though worshipers of God, they had no covenant status, no “sonship” relating to the Almighty. However, we were welcomed out of paganism and into “sonship” through the Jewish Messiah, who gives the true meaning of the Torah and redeems the lost of Israel and also grants the right to the Gentiles to become sons and daughters of God.

In my family, I am the oldest son. I have one younger brother who was born when I was ten. Because I am the first-born, my father doesn’t love my brother any less than he loves me. Sure, my brother and I are really different people, especially due to our age difference, and our father has a different sort of relationship with each of us based on our personalities and such, but the love is the love. We are sons. He is our father.

I won’t go into the dynamics of families who have “born” and “adopted” children but as you can imagine, it’s not uncommon for the adopted kids, especially if they were adopted at an older age, to wonder if they are just as loved as the “born” children. I can’t speak for all adopted families and what they experience, but I can say with confidence that, with God as our Father, we are all loved equally (Galatians 3:28); the first-born son and the adopted son.

There is no truth about G‑d.
Truth is G-d.

There is no one who learns Truth.
You become Truth.

There is no need to search for Truth.
You have inherited it and it is within you.

You need only learn quietness
to listen to that inheritance.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Become Truth”

God loves both sons and all we have to do to realize it is to “learn quietness and to listen to that inheritance”. But given the long and difficult history between Christians and Jews, do we love each other?

The Otzar HaYir’ah, zt”l, explains why shekalim serve to unify every Jew with the community. “We give specifically half-shekels to teach an important lesson: that without the community we are nothing. Since every individual has a mission to fulfill which no one else can achieve, it is easy to feel uniquely different. We must never feel separated from our friends since, at the root, all Jews are one.

“To teach that we all need each other, each person gives half a shekel – which is only completed through another Jew’s half shekel. This shows that we are only complete when we are unified with our friend. This brings to great feelings of brotherhood and nullifies our natural tendency towards feeling uniquely alone.”

Daf Yomi Digest
Stories off the Daf
“The Power of Community”
Menachos 93

While the Otzar HaYir’ah, zt”l is speaking of the Jewish community and the need one Jew has for his people, I would like to extend the metaphor to include how we “sons” need each other, the Jewish and the Christian sons. We may have a difficult time relating as “siblings” (not all that uncommon in some families), but we can try to learn to trust each other, to forgive the insults and injuries of the past, to turn to a common Father, and through His love for us, learn to love each other.