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Posted on June 20, 2024 (5784) By Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein | Series: | Level:

Moshe the man was very humble, more than any person on the face of the earth.[1]

This is an extremely important statement about Moshe Rabbenu, and a rich compliment. But why here? Is his humility really germane to the story of the concerns Miriam and Aharon voiced about him? Isn’t the essential point here the difference between Moshe’s nevuah and that of any other prophet? Why does the Torah add this detail about Moshe’s personality – however important it is – precisely at this point?

The answer may be that this is the perfect place to speak of Moshe’s humility. While everyone knew that Moshe conducted himself with absolute humility, no one really knew what was in his heart. There are people who act with humility for the sole purpose that people should lionize them for being self-effacing, deferential, and unassuming.

Can we tell the difference between the one who is genuinely humble, and those who play at it? The litmus test is how the person reacts to a particular kind of criticism: when the person who always acts with lowliness and easy demeanor is accused of being the opposite. When people accuse him of being arrogant, conceited, egocentric and power-hungry, how does he respond? If he lashes out at his accusers, he is not one of the genuinely humble. If he persists in his humble behavior without missing a beat, he shows himself to be one of the truly humble.

In our incident, Moshe was accused of having positioned himself as superior to other neviim. As Miriam and Aharon stated, they were prophets as well, and maintaining a typical family life did not interfere with their gift of nevuah. Why did Moshe seem to promote himself as something different?

Moshe’s reaction was to take the criticism in stride, and to find no offense in it at all. It was precisely here that Moshe proved that he was, in fact, the most humble of people.

Chazal[2] contrast Moshe’s humility with that of Avraham Avinu, and prefer Moshe’s. Avraham called himself nothing more that “dust and ashes.”[3] As insignificant as dust and ashes are, they are still something. Moshe, however, said, “What are we,”[4] meaning that he had no worth at all.

The point is well taken, but is there really a difference between them?

Humility is sometimes the achievement of a person who has come to a more profound realization of Who Hashem is. Compared to Him, any mortal – a mere collection of insignificant material that exists for less than a flitting moment on the continuum of eternity – is of no worth. All humans share this lack of existential value. This does not prevent him, however, to compare himself to all those other bits of protoplasmic flotsam, and find himself to be vastly superior to them! They are all nothings, but he vastly prefers his brand of nothingness!

Moshe Rabbenu, however, even when contrasting himself to others, found himself to be nothing at all. His humility was indeed in a class of its own.

  1. Bamidbar 12:3
  2. Chulin 89a
  3. Bereishis 18:27
  4. Shemos 16:7

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