Parshas B'ha'aloscha - The Most Important Person
by Rabbi Chaim Dovid Green
The Man Moshe is extremely humble, more than any person on the face of the
There will never arise another prophet like Moshe who knew Hashem face to
face. -(Deuteronomy 34:10)
There seems to be a built in contradiction between these two verses. How
could Moshe be both the most humble individual and yet be the greatest of
I once asked a group of high school students "Who's the most important
person in Jewish history?" After they exhausted all possibilities guessing
Avraham, Moshe or Yehoshua for examples, I finally let them know...it
is...Label Lam! They were shocked. Most of them had never heard of me
till I'd walked into the classroom that day. I even told them I would
There can be no more reliable proof than an open statement from the Sages
of the Talmud. When a witness is about to give testimony in a life and
death trial he is strongly reminded about the potential consequences of his
words. They ask him, "Why was man created singular?" (He could have been
created as a couple, or a gaggle, or a corporation, or a synagogue or a
not-for-profit organization) The answer the witness is told is: "a person
has an obligation to say, 'the whole world was created (just) for me!'".
When Adam first stepped into the arena of the universe, every tree, breeze
and ray of light was designed as a stage for his personal morality play.
There are several pinnacle ideas found in a statement by Hillel, "If I am
not for myself who will be for me, and if I am only for myself who am I and
if not now, then when?!" Hillel is telling us that nobody can play our
assigned parts in the orchestra of existence better than (we) the assigned
individual can. I have something unique to deliver to the universe that no
other person could replace. However, if I am a puzzle piece separate to
myself alone, then I suffer not from an identity crisis (WHO am I?) but
rather, a humanity crisis (WHAT am I?). The true purpose for me to develop
my SELF is to provide greater service to the whole of humanity and strive
to be a more perfect thread in the total tapestry of life.
How does "if not now, then when?!" fit in here? The first two parts tell
us that there is no extra human in the morality play of history and that
everyone fits perfectly into the plot, adding color and texture to the
living fabric of life. This third part tells us that there are also no
repeat _moments_. There has never been or will ever be another spring
Friday as this one. It is a moment in history which has or will have no
I remember telling the high school students that if they went home and
asked their parents, "Who's the most important person in Jewish history?"
and then gave the answer "Label Lam" then they hadn't understood the
message. Everyone has to say himself! I am only another actor in the
morality play you star in and you are the same in mine. So what is the most
important moment in Jewish history? You guessed it! THIS moment! Now and
now and now, beating on in it's non-petty pace from day to day to the last
syllable of recorded time.
Part of a person's greatness is a person's smallness. Not only is it NOT a
contradiction that Moshe was both the most humble and at the same time the
greatest person...it's axiomatic! Humility and greatness and necessary
The Kotzker Rebbe put it succinctly when he said that a person should have
a piece of paper in each side pocket. On one should be written, "The world
was created (just) for me". On the other, "I am (originated from only)
dust and ashes". The trick in life, says the Rebbe is to know when to take
out which piece of paper!
In most cases, when we are offended, or our car sustains a bump etc., our
first instinct is to shout in our own defense, rattling the proverbial
sabre. When a request for charity arrives or some other life saving
endeavor avails itself of us our inner voice might speak up saying "What
difference will my small contribution make?". We have taken out the wrong
papers! The truth is, that when we are offended the ideal response, and I'm
not saying it's easy, is to be as dust and ashes. What offense does dust
and ashes take? We walk on it everyday and hear not a peep! On the other
hand, when a mitzvah opportunity arrives we are to rise boldly to our feet
shouting "I will do it, since the world was created solely for _me_ and
_this_ is the moment!"
In order for Moshe to be the greatest person, the one who took the most
responsibility, he needed to think less and little about himself. Whatever
time and energy he devoted to himself was ultimately out of sense of duty
to others. The more he was able to delegate his own ego to the background,
the more he was able to serve the needs of others. More light can shine
through glasses which are not tinted, rose or otherwise.
The greatest person is the one who focuses on the greatness of the goal and
the tasks it brings. That person is less distracted by personal
accomplishments and looks to what yet has to be done.
We would like to thank Rabbi Label Lam of Foundations for Jewish Learning
once again for his contribution this week.
Text Copyright © 1999 Rabbi Dovid Green and
Project Genesis, Inc.