Parshas Beha'aloscha is read this week (JN 1, '96) in Eretz Yisrael; it will be read elsewhere on JN 8, '96. It contains the famous praise of Moshe, uttered in his defense by G-d: "The man Moshe was very humble, beyond all men on the face of the earth..." Numbers 12:3.
The Baal Shem Tov said that people have a mistaken idea of what humility is. Many make an impression that they are modest, but secretly pride themselves in their modesty. Such people are conceited, and only increase their conceit with their supposed 'modesty.' (Baal Shem Tov al Hatorah) The Ramban (Nachmanides) explains the modesty of Moshe: He actually thought that anyone else would do a better job than he.
Notice, however, that such feelings did not in any way affect his effort to fulfill his responsibilities. Although he had nothing which he felt proud of -- because anyone else would have done at least as well -- nonetheless, being in the position in which he was, it was his duty to act.
The question has been raised: how was Moshe able to write, "The man Moshe was very humble..." ? A humble person cannot be proud of his humility! The Asarah Ma'amoros explains that Moshe did not want to write these words. He made an agreement with G-d. Rather than write "anav" -- "humble," he instead wrote "ani" -- "impoverished." Although our texts have "anav" (with a 'vav'), the Asarah Ma'amoros says that the letter should be written with a broken 'vav,' in order to be faithful to Moshe's own writing. The words are quoted in Minchas Shai, a major authority regarding the masorah -- the record of the traditional text. (See Chidushei Chasom Sofer al Hatorah; the Or Hachayim has a different answer).
The story continues that G-d would only agree to change the text, if an extra 'vav' were written in the word "kalos" in the verse, "on the day Moshe "kalos" --finished -- the tabernacle." (Numbers 7:1.)
The Chasom Sofer explained: the word "kalas" (without a 'vav') refers to the 'expiration of the soul' in love and fervor, while "kalos" (with a 'vav') indicates 'brides.' See Rashi on Numbers 7:1, that on the day Moshe finished the tabernacle, Israel was compared to a bride on the day of her wedding. The words are related, for 'bride' also comes from the root for 'love' and 'fervor.'
Why was this word chosen for Moshe's extra 'vav'? To tell us that this great feat, that Moshe could produce the special relationship between Israel and G-d akin to the relationship between husband and wife, was accomplished through one quality: The 'vav' -- representing the humility of Moshe, who would lessen himself in order to bring to earth G-d's desires. (Rama Mifano [author of Asarah Ma'amaros], quoted by R. Yoseif Stern in the miluim to Chidushei Chasom Sofer al Hatorah)
The Tomar Devorah writes that humility is the highest quality, corresponding to the Kabbalistic term Kesser (Crown). Higher wisdom is easily attainable to the humble; because they don't make noise, everything sinks in.
(c) Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein and Genesis, '97