In this week’s parsha we read the death of Moshe Rabbeinu.
The Torah (34;10) relates his greatness: “Never again has there arisen in Israel a prophet like Moshe.”
The Midrash (Devarim Rabbah, 11;3) relates the following story in order to show Moshe's greatness: Adam said to Moshe: "I am greater than you because I was created solely by Hashem, whereas you were born from your parents." Moshe responded: "You lost your greatness when you sinned, but my Rays of Glory have never gone away." Noach then came to Moshe and said, "I am greater than you because I was saved from the Flood." Moshe responded: You only saved yourself. I saved my entire generation after the Golden Calf. Avraham then came with the following claim: "I am greater than you because I showed hospitality to every traveler." Moshe answered with 2 points: Firstly, he fed Jews, which is a greater mitzvah than feeding non-jews. Secondly, Moshe fed the Jews in the desert, where one cannot obtain food (Avraham lived near inhabited cities). Yitzchak then posed the following claim: "I am greater than you for I inclined my neck on the altar and envisioned the divine providence." Moshe answered: "I was able to speak to the divine providence face-to-face." Lastly, Yaakov approached Moshe claiming that he was greater because he beat Eisav's angel. Moshe answered: Firstly, you only fought with one angel. I fought with the whole crew of angels (when I went to receive the Torah). Secondly, you fought on earth, so you had "home field advantage." I, however, had to fight in Heaven, in the angels' domain."
Interestingly, however, the Torah only relates that Moshe was greater than the rest of the nation in one single aspect…And that is: Humility (Bamidbar, 12;3).
The question is: What’s so great about humility that it made Moshe Rabbeinu the greatest jew to ever live?
A second question: The last pasuk in the Torah (34;12) states “and for all the great awesomeness that Moshe performed before the eyes of all Israel.” Rashi explains that the pasuk is referring to Moshe breaking the Tablets. However, what was so “greatly awesome” about breaking the Tablets? The Gemara (Eruvin, 54a) relates that had the first Tablets not been broken then Torah would never be forgotten and no nation would ever be able to rule over Israel!?!
Let’s see the importance of humility…
The Gemara (Sanhedrin, 98a) states that Mashiach won’t come until there’s no haughty people among the nation of Israel. Additionally, the sefer Orchot Tzaddikim writes that evilest character trait is arrogance. Furthermore, the Gemara (Sotah, 4b) says that a haughty person is considered an idol worshipper and as though he has broken all the laws of sexual immorality. Even further, the Gemara (Sotah, 5a) says that a haughty person should be excommunicated, and that Hashem can’t dwell in the same world, as he is an abomination. Lastly, the Midrash (Bamidbar Rabbah) states “one who does not make himself like the desert (meaning: humble) will not know Torah and mitzvot.”
As important as humility is, the Rambam states (1;4) that regarding ALL character traits one should take the middle path. Additionally, the Gemara (Sotah, 5a) states that a Torah scholar must have “an eight of an eight” of haughtiness and if he doesn’t then he should be excommunicated. Therefore, the Rambam (1;7) explains that a person should take his humility to the extreme in terms of thoughts (not actions). Regarding his actions, however, the Rambam explains that a person should take the middle path.
We could now answer our 2 questions…
Although the Tablets were of extreme importance, the Gemara (Shabbat, 87a) relates that Moshe made a “kal vechomer” (an extrapolation from a minor premise to a major premise) and decided to break them. The Gemara relates that Moshe thought to himself, “If bringing sacrifices for Passover is just one of the 613 mitzvot, and any jew who goes against the Torah is prohibited from performing that mitzvah--then certainly, the whole entire Torah should not be given to the nation of Israel, for they have gone against Hashem by making a Golden Calf.” Therefore, Moshe wasn’t showing arrogance by breaking the Tablets. Rather, he was simply taking the “middle path.” Thus, Moshe was the humblest person in the world in terms of his thoughts, not his actions.
How exactly should one think of oneself in thought?
Rabbi Eli Mansour explains: Humility means acknowledging that one has yet to fully reach his potential. A person should think to himself that someone else with his skills could have far surpassed what he accomplished. This is why the Torah calls Moshe Rabbeinu the humblest person in the world, for he felt as though he didn’t reach his maximum potential. Similarly, the Gemara (Yoma, 20b) states that before death, ones soul gives out a scream that could be heard from one side of the world to the other! The commentators explain this to mean that before one dies, their soul is shown a picture of how great they could have been had they reached their full potential. When the soul realizes the chasm between how he is and how he could have it, it gives off a huge scream. As a result, when one becomes humble and realizes that they’re not reaching their full potential, this gives them an awakening to start following in the ways of Hashem.
Summary: Moshe Rabbeinu is the greatest jew of all time, even though he was only better than the rest of the world in the aspect of humility (Bamidbar, 12;3). The last thing the Torah tells us about Moshe was that he broke the Tablets, which seemingly shows arrogance. However, the Gemara (Sotah, 5a) states that a Torah scholar must have “an eight of an eight” of haughtiness (otherwise he won’t be respected). Moshe took the “middle path” regarding humility, as the Rambam suggests (Hilchos De’os, 1;4). Humility means acknowledging that one has yet to reach their full potential. Through humility one comes to create a strong bond with Hashem, as they realize how much closer to Him they could be. The importance of humility is astronomical, as a haughty person is considered an idol worshipper who has broken all the laws of sexual immorality (Sotah, 4b) and the Mashiach won’t come until everyone becomes humble (Sanhedrin, 98a).