Rabbi Zvi Sobolofsky
Rabbi Zvi Sobolofsky

The Greatest of Men, the Most Humble of Men

There are four, seemingly distinct, areas in which Moshe excels. First, he is the "anav mikol adam - the humblest of men" (Bamidbar 12:3). Second, upon his death the Torah testifies about him "v'lo kom navi od b'Yisroel k'Moseh - no greater prophet arose in Israel than Moshe" (Devarim 34:10). Next, Moshe is referred to throughout the Tanach as the eved Hashem - the servant of Hashem (Devarim 34:5, Yehoshua 1:2, Malachi 3:22). Moshe's eved Hashem status is expanded upon further when Hashem states, "lo chein avdi Moshe; bechol baysi ne'eman hu - my servant Moshe is different and is trusted throughout my home." Lastly, to his people he is known as Moseh Rabbeinu - Moshe our teacher; he is the rebbe par excellence. Moshe's essence is described as prophet, loyal servant of Hashem, teacher and yet forever humble. Do these traits just happen to coincide to make up this great man, or is there a common thread that unites these different aspects of Moshe's personality?

It is the humility of Moshe that enables him to reach the great heights he attains in the other areas, for his ultimate greatness lies in his ability to not focus on himself. Notwithstanding his great talents and abilities, Moshe's humility is an expression of his conviction that everything he has accomplished is because Hashem has been assisting him. He sees himself as an eved Hashem, and just as a loyal servant doesn't focus on his own desires but strives to please his master, so too Moshe the anav is Moshe the eved.

The heights of prophecy and Torah knowledge reached by Moshe were a direct result of his humility. Similarly, the days of Moshiach are described as a time when "ki mal'ah ha'aretz da'as es Hashem kamayim layam mechasim - the earth will be filled with the knowledge of Hashem as the water covers the seas" (Yeshaya 11:9.) Knowledge of Hashem is described using an analogy to water because water can only collect when a hole (i.e. an empty space) exists. So too, one must nullify one's self to Hashem to receive His knowledge. Moshe who was the greatest anav reached the highest level of prophecy and also reached the highest level of Torah attainable by man.

This characteristic of not focusing on oneself not only shapes our relationship with Hashem, but also molds our interactions with our fellow man. Moshe models this selflessness in the area of interpersonal relations as well: Putting himself at risk, Moshe saves the life of a Jewish slave; rather than living the life of a prince far away from the plight of his brethren, he negates his own needs to care for others; Moshe refuses to let the daughters of Yisro suffer at the hands of shepherds who mistreat them, but rather intercedes to protect these total strangers; Moshe hesitates to become the leader of the Jewish people fearing it will offend his older brother; He will not begin his mission before receiving permission from Yisro to whom he owed a debt of gratitude. This selfless sensitivity to both relative and stranger is an expression of the trait of humility that personified Moshe.

The Rambam (Hilchos Teshuva 5:2) observes that every person can become a tzaddik like Moshe. Although we cannot attain the levels of prophecy or Torah knowledge reached by Moshe we can perfect ourselves in the trait of humility. By following the example of Moshe, our relationship with both Hashem and fellow man can reach great heights.

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