Proper Expressions of Humility
While grazing the sheep of his father-in-law Yisro, Moshe Rabbeinu
encountered the Shechina (presence of Hashem) at the burning bush and
began his ascension to the leadership of Klal Yisroel, albeit reluctantly.
Hashem called to Moshe and instructed him to appear before Pharoh and
begin the process of taking the Jews out of Egypt. Moshe Rabbeinu, the
most humble of all people (see Bamidbar 12:3), responded by questioning
his own qualifications to appear before Pharoh and lead the Jews. He asked
Hashem (Shmos 3:11), “Mi anochi ki alech el Pharoh, V’chi otzi es B’nei
Rashi explains that he presented Hashem with two logically-connected,
sequential arguments – a ‘lo zu af zu’ form of reasoning: 1) Am I fit to
appear before Pharoh?
And, [even if I am worthy], 2) are the B’nei Yisroel deserving of being
taken out of Egypt? What special merits do they possess to deserve such a
miracle? (See Ramban for an alternative explanation of Moshe’s second
Rashi explains that Hashem answered both questions of Moshe in the order
that they were asked. In response to Moshe’s first question – his ability
to represent the B’nei Yisroel, Hashem answered, “Ki ah’yeh emoch” – I
will be with you.” Hashem assures Moshe that he will not be going alone,
and that He will accompany Moshe as he faces the most powerful man on
Earth. The Midrash comments that Moshe initially thought that Hashem
delegated this task to him and expected Moshe to shoulder the
responsibility of taking the B’nei Yisroel out of Egypt on his own. To
this, Hashem responded that He would remain with Moshe and support him
every step of the way. Rashi adds that Hashem offered Moshe the analogy of
the burning bush that did not become consumed as it burned. So, too,
promised Hashem, that you will not be in danger, as long as you fulfill my
At first glance, however, Hashem does not seem to be responding to Moshe’s
question. After all, Moshe claimed that he was unworthy to appear before
Pharoh (he seemed to infer that Hashem should select someone else who is
more appropriate). Yet, even after Hashem promised Moshe that He would
remain with him, Moshe could have responded that Hashem should accompany
someone else who is more worthy of leadership. How did Hashem address his
Hashem’s response to Moshe’s second query is even more difficult to
understand. Hashem offered Moshe a ‘signal’ – “V’zeh lecho ha’os” (Shmos
3:12) – this will be a sign for you that I, in fact, sent you [on this
mission]; “… ta’avdun es HoElokim al ha’hor hazeh” – [As proof that I am
sending you] when you take the Jews out of Egypt, you will worship Hashem
on this mountain.
Why did Hashem categorize this promise as an ‘os’ – a ‘sign’? Generally,
an ‘os’ would be a miracle of sorts that takes place immediately. This
would be an indication that Hashem’s divine intervention would protect
Moshe during his courageous appearance before Pharoh. In fact, later in
the parsha (Shmos 4:1), when Moshe was concerned that the Jews would not
believe him, Hashem instructed him to perform three miracles for them; and
referred to the miracles as ‘osos.’ A miracle is a sign of Hashem’s
support; how can a promise of future activity be considered a ‘sign’?
In response to these difficulties, I would like to suggest that both
questions were addressed by Hashem simultaneously. Moshe was questioning
the ultimate success of his mission. He considered himself, a lowly
shepherd, unfit to lead. He also questioned whether his people, in the
forty-ninth degree of impurity, were worthy of a miraculous redemption
In order to support a wavering Moshe, Hashem informed him that He placed
the highest level of trust in Moshe Rabbeinu – and in the potential of
Klal Yisroel. He informed Moshe that self-respect is crucial to personal
growth and that not believing in your own ability to achieve success is a
destructive form of humility. Hashem offered Moshe the greatest
compliment – “Ki ah’yeh emoch” – I will always be with you and support you
in your sacred mission. I am placing my trust in you despite your current
stature as a shepherd and the speech impediment (see Shmos 4:10) that is a
source of such concern to you. Klal Yisroel may be in the 49th level of
impurity, said Hashem, but I foresee them rising to the highest level of
kedusha and accepting the Torah in the not-so-distant future.
Hashem, the Melamed Torah l’amo Yisroel, offered Moshe Rabbeinu a visual
aide to His shiur about proper expressions of humility. Hashem instructed
Moshe to reflect upon the location of the s’neh (the burning bush, where
an os had already taken place); the future site of Kabbolas Hatorah. Har
Sinai was selected due to the fact that it was the smallest mountain in
that area. If that was the case, however, why did Hashem not give the
Torah in a valley? The answer is that proper acceptance of the Torah
requires the blend of the majesty and presence of a mountain – and true
humility, which was represented by giving the Torah on the smallest
mountain in the range.
As we grow through adolescence and strive to achieve our goals, it is of
utmost importance that we maintain this blend of self-respect and modesty.
Humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself
less. True humility begins when we become aware of the gifts that we
possess. It manifests itself when we understand that these blessings come
from Hashem. They must be shared with others in a selfless manner. We need
to care and share, and make a positive contribution to Hashem’s world.
Best wishes for a gutten Shabbos.
Text Copyright © 2007 by Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz and Torah.org.
Rabbi Horowitz is the founder and dean of Yeshiva Darchei Noam in Monsey, NY, as well as the founder and Program Director of Agudath Israel's Project Y.E.S. (Youth Enrichment Services), which helps at-risk teens and their parents. He is a popular lecturer on teaching and parenting topics in communities around the world, and is the author of several best-selling parenting tape and CD sets. For more information on Rabbi Horowitz's parenting tapes, visit http://www.rabbihorowitz.com/ or call 845-352-7100 X 133.