by Rebbetzin Holly Pavlov
All human beings, at birth, are given talents, dispositions, and inclinations. God gives these qualities according to the task assigned to each person in this world. Some people have a proclivity for kindness, others for honesty, others for humility or anger.
It is normal for a person to work from within his personality and make use of characteristics that are natural to him. Using inborn traits, he can choose to effect good or evil in the world. He has the free will to direct these traits in the service of God or not to do so. He can neglect to control his inclination and so cause destruction, or he can learn to control them when appropriate.
A person who perfects the ability to use the strengths and weaknesses of his personality in the appropriate way is called a tzaddik, a righteous person. He has fulfilled the mission of the human being in this world ― to use God-given traits in the service of his Creator.
Every person is given a different set of qualities to aid him with his job in the world. These qualities are his particular "tools of the trade" and are in part an indication of his mission and purpose.
No two people are given the same talent set. It therefore follows that everyone will be deficient in some areas. Each person will have relative strengths and energies, but not all strengths and energies. However, when two people work together, each using his unique abilities, they are able to build the world.
In addition, every person houses within himself many traits and at times conflicting ones. For example, a person can be sublimely sensitive in some areas, yet callous in others. Or he could be mild-mannered in general, but aggressive in certain situations. Even our opinions can be in conflict. Since we are complex as people, there will be times when one ideal of ours will be at odds with another. For example, a person may be inspired to invite guests to his home, yet deeply resent the lack of privacy this brings. If he gives full expression to this internal conflict, as his heart desires, he will become entangled in contradiction.
A person must learn, therefore, to control himself. He must select the attribute appropriate for a particular time, place, and audience. He must balance his clashing drives, only giving expression to those actions, thoughts, or words that suit the situation.
How does a person learn to balance and control his inclinations, using them properly and containing them when necessary? How does he learn to give fitting expression to each of his qualities and use them to be a whole person? The question is a critical one, since these qualities crave expression. We must find a proper venue for our personality, talents, and drives ― because if we don't they will express themselves inappropriately or they will erupt inside us.
For instance, a person who has an instinct to give to others but finds no healthy and appropriate expression for this drive will end up giving in an unhealthy or inappropriate way. An artist who leaves her art unexpressed will wither inside, and this will negatively affect her ability to function in other areas of her life. Every God-given gift requires expression, yet inappropriate or stifled expression is dangerous and unhealthy.
How then do we keep the balance? The Torah provides an answer:
"He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God." (Michah 6:8)
From the above passage, it seems that a person who walks with God is one who defines himself by God's standards and subordinates his wishes to those of God. When God desires justice, the person walks with justice. When God desires kindness, the person walks with kindness. Each trait we have clamors for expression, so in order to walk with God, there will be times when we will have to rein in our impulses. In fact, the defining moments in the life of a Jew are precisely those times when, instead of simply reacting, he pauses and asks himself: "Which of my many competing traits is called for now?"
Walking humbly with God means using every talent and strength we have in a positive way and restraining those energies when that is the will of God. For instance, a person who is a gifted speaker will certainly have opportunities when God desires his speech such as in learning Torah, communicating to a child, or praying. But there will also be times when he will know that using speech would be is wrong, as in a session of gossip or slander.
Therefore, a gifted speaker must learn how to restrict his speech, no matter how eloquent, in order to "walk humbly with God." The artist must express her art, but the laws of modesty will set boundaries for her creative expression. The giver must give ― to the right people, at the right time, and in the right way.
Asking, "What does God want of me?" and then behaving in a fitting manner is an expression of self-nullification or subjugation of ego. The desire to "walk with God" defines both the questions and the answers. It directs decision making and actions. It requires us to allow our intellect to prevail over emotion and instinct, and it provides us with clarity.
This is the secret of humility.
Humility means knowing who you are ― your talents, strengths, personality traits knowing what the Torah expects of you, and then subjugating the expression of these qualities to the will of God. Humility is making personal ambition serve the truth of Torah.
Paradoxically, humility and self-nullification greatly strengthen a person enough to tame the opposing forces in him, preventing these forces from clashing inside the person and wreaking destruction. By defining himself by "what God wants," a person has clarity about how to behave in any situation. He learns to fully express himself without misusing his traits and talents. He knows when being silent is better than speaking, when it is correct to laugh, and when it is more appropriate to cry. He resolves internal conflicts by using only those characteristics that suit the demands of the moment.
Reprinted with permission from InnerNet Magazine