Torah Fax
Friday, June 20, 2003 - 20 Sivan, 5763

Nobody’s Home

The story is told about the rabbi who, on Yom Kippur, stood in front of the ark and berated himself, “I’m a nobody, a nothing etc.” Upon hearing this impressive display of self-effacement, the president of the congregation got up, approached the ark and repeated the same exercise in “humility.” One of the congregants, seeing the way in which these distinguished gentlemen humbled themselves before G‑d, went to the front of the synagogue and berated himself as well.

When the rabbi noticed this simple Jew’s self-deprecation, he turned to the president and said indignantly, “Who does he think he is to call himself a nobody...?”

A telling Chasidic story is related about someone who wanted to call attention to the false humility exhibited by some rabbis. On Simchat Torah, the man announced that the honor of carrying the first Torah scroll for the first Hakafah (circuit of dancing around the synagogue) would be awarded to the most humble individual present. Pandemonium broke loose as a mad rush of people tried to grab the first Sefer Torah. One person seized the Torah, but another protested saying that he was first, but because he was infirm, someone else got there ahead of him....

In this week’s Torah portion, we are told that Moses was the most humble person on the face of the Earth. The question is obvious: how could a person of the caliber of Moses, being aware of his great qualities, be humble? Moses knew he was the greatest prophet that ever lived. He was well aware that all the Torah ever to be learned in the history of the world would be in his merit, because he was the one to bring Torah down from Heaven. So how did he maintain his humility?

A more precise, Chasidic definition of humility is in order.

Humility is not the denial of one’s good qualities. One is obligated to recognize all of his character traits - both positive and negative. In fact, if one deludes himself about his positive character traits, it is quite likely that he won’t be honest in his assessing of his negative traits either. True humility is the realization that all of the qualities that one possesses are not his own, but a gift from G‑d.

Moses certainly knew that he was endowed with extraordinary talents and virtues. He was imbued, however, with the perception that those capabilities were all given to him by G‑d. Moses imagined that, had G‑d put anyone else in his shoes and been given the same spiritual potential that he was given, that person would have accomplished even more. Moses did not delude himself as far as his talents were concerned, he merely viewed them as G‑dly talents that were not essentially his own.

Another point on this topic is made by the founder of Chabad, the Alter Rebbe. He says that Moses was humbled to the core when, after being shown all the future generations of Jews, he was shown our generation - the last generation of exile. Moses saw a generation that, unlike his, did not experience any open miracles or prophecy. He saw a people that had suffered terrible hardship and suffering. Nonetheless, he saw how the relatively simple and spiritually uninitiated Jews withstood the pressures and temptations of exile and remained committed to the Torah and its Mitzvos. This show of self-sacrifice and dedication, the Alter Rebbe writes, overwhelmed Moses with a sense of awe and humility.

This can serve as a response that those that ask why we should merit the Redemption. After all, if earlier, more holy and learned people could not succeed in bringing about the Redemption, how - they ask “humbly” - can we bring an end to the exile?

The answer lies in our unique ability to withstand the strongest forces of assimilation and the unnerving winds of a society that all too often tries to topple the very foundation of our belief. To a large extent, persevering this test of “not being deterred by the ones who mock us (Code of Jewish Law 1:1)” is a greater accomplishment than much of what our ancestors did. It is a testimony to a special power we possess - a power that humbled even Moses and that will finally bring about the revelation of Moshiach.

Moshiach Matters

Continued from last week - On the other hand, Maimonides asserts that the nature of the world will not change in the Messianic era. This opinion is voiced in the Talmud as well. What would Maimonides do with other statements in our tradition that imply that the Messianic era will be a miraculous time? An even greater difficulty with Maimonides’s assertion is posed by the fundamental belief that in the Messianic era the dead will come back to life. Maimonides lists this belief as one of the thirteen principles of faith. How can we believe that the dead will come to life, if the nature of the world will not change when the Messiah comes?  To be continued - from

Moshiach - Its a Jewish issue. For more info, visit

© 2001- 2005 Chabad of the West Side