Photo Credit: Asher Schwartz

The Torah states in Parshat Beha’aloscha, “The man Moshe was exceedingly humble, more than any other person on the face of the earth” (Bamidbar 12:3).

Rashi defines the word used here, anav, as humble, patient, and tolerant. Moshe’s sister Miriam and brother Aaron criticized him for separating from his wife, Tzipora, and felt that what he did was improper. But since Miriam was the one who spoke lashon hara about Moshe to her brother Aaron, she was afflicted with tzara’as.


What was Moshe’s reaction to this criticism from his siblings? The answer is silence! Because the true mark of humility is the ability to accept criticism and be a tolerant person, even to those who mistreat and verbally abuse you.

Although Moshe was the greatest navi of Klal Yisrael, and was aware of his uniqueness, he was nonetheless the most humble person who ever lived. Because he realized that his achievements and abilities and level of prophecy were given to him by G‑d, and thus that he had no right to feel arrogant for doing what he was capable of.

The Rambam in Hilchos Teshuva states that it is the trait of a baal teshuva to be humble and tolerant. If he wants to rectify his sins against G‑d and man, he should contemplate his many shortcomings and character flaws. The Chofetz Chaim says that an arrogant person is seriously deficient in intelligence – because had he made an accounting of his failures and shortcomings, he would have come to the conclusion that there was nothing to be haughty and arrogant about.

Our greatest ancestors understood their human limitations. Our forefather Abraham said about himself, “I am but dust and ashes” (Bereishis 18:27). The greatest teacher and prophet, Moshe Rabbenu, said of humanity, “For what are we?” King David said about himself in Tehillim 22, “But I am a worm and not a man.” Moshiach is described by the prophet Zechariah in chapter 9 of that sefer as a humble person riding on a donkey. If so, how can we act in a conceited and prideful manner? The verse in Tehillim 93 says, “Hashem has reigned, He has clothed Himself in grandeur.” When a human being acts in such a manner, he is in effect donning the kingly garb of his Creator.

At Matan Torah, Klal Yisrael experienced the grandeur of Hashem and their own insignificance. As we read this week’s parsha shortly after Shavuot, it is a time to contemplate the vital importance of the traits of humility and tolerance.

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Rabbi Ephraim Sprecher is dean of students at the Diaspora Yeshiva in Jerusalem.