Rabbi Steven Carr Reuben, Ph.D.
Moses faces the most serious challenge to his leadership in his entire career this week. It comes from a man named Korah who was himself part of the leadership elite of the Israelites and a member of Moses' own tribe. Korah accuses Moses of the sin of acting as if he is holier than (read – “more important than”) everyone else, while at the same time claiming that all of Israel is “a kingdom of priests and a holy people.”
One of the most remarkable aspects of this rebellion was that it cuts to the heart of what is undoubtedly the single most important personality trait that Jewish tradition ascribed to Moses, namely his humility. In fact, the rabbis of the Talmud remind us that it is written in the Torah itself that Moses was the humblest of men and that his personal humility was one of the main reasons God chose him to become the one who lead the Jewish people from slavery to freedom.
Each of us has times in our lives when we have to fight against the tendency to see the best in ourselves and the worst in others. Yet the rabbinic tradition holds up humility as one of the most important qualities that a leader can possess. Indeed, the Midrash teaches that each of us is to imagine that we have two notes in our pockets – one says, “The whole earth was created for my sake,” and the other says, “I am but dust and ashes.” Throughout our lives, when the situation calls for it, we are to reach into our pockets and pull out either one or the other of these notes and thereby remember both that we are created as unique beings with the spark of the divine in each of us, and that every other human being has his or her own unique divine spark as well.
Another of my favorite comments by the ancient rabbis is found in a collection of rabbinic commentaries on the story of creation. In this particular Midrash the rabbis point out that human beings were created on the last day of creation so that any time any one of us starts to get too full of ourselves we are to remember that even the gnat was created before us. This is how the rabbis teach the importance of humility and not holding ourselves as better than any other aspect of creation since it all came from the same creative power in the first place.
Perhaps that is why our tradition called “humility’ the greatest quality that Moses possessed. If even Moses could be humble when he was the greatest Jewish leader of all time, the only human being in history to talk with God “face to face,” how much easier should it be for you and me to be humble as well? The other reason that tradition depicted Moses as one of the most humble of all leaders was simply to serve as a model for each of us in our daily lives, whether we are officially “leaders” or not. If even Moses, the greatest of all leaders in Jewish history, was able to remain humble and recognize that he was simply a vehicle for God’s work in the world, then we too have the obligation to see our hands as God’s hands, our eyes as God’s eyes and our hearts as God’s heart. When we can do that consistently we are more likely to find ways to encourage those around us to feel better about themselves and to discover their own inner spark of the divine as well.
(Check out www.rebreuben.com, www.becomingjewishbook.com and www.interfaithrabbi.com for more commentaries, articles and books by Rabbi Steven Carr Reuben).
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