Our Sages tell us that Moshe Rabbeinu was very wealthy. When he descended from Mount Sinai, he was able to retain the precious broken pieces of the tablets which were very valuable.
Yet despite his prosperity and his ability to live a life of luxury, the Torah describes him as a very humble person. Although Moshe was described as the greatest of prophets to have ever lived, the one and only trait of his that is extolled by Almighty G-d in the Torah is his attribute of humility. Indeed, our Sages speak negatively of a person who displays arrogance, warning us that Almighty G-d abhors being in the company of such a person.
The Torah states: “U’Moshe haya anav me’od mikol haadam al p’nei haadama,” and Moses was the humblest man from all the people on the face of the earth. G-d pays no attention to wealth, opulence, or influence, but rather to simplicity and the genuineness of the life of every individual. In turn, this humility brings man closer to Almighty G-d.
This quality of simplicity is diametrically opposite to our American culture where wealth and luxury are the measure of one’s worth and success. One need only witness the opulence of the White House – which in a way is the ultimate example of the “American Dream” – to understand how pervasive this drive is in society. When dignitaries arrive in America they are astounded by the wealth and grandeur of the White House and, thereby, of America. In American society, wealth and power are the goals, while modesty and diffidence are impediments to success.
I remember vividly when I took my eighth grade students on a two-week study trip to Israel. This trip became the high point of the children’s Jewish education at the school and brought to life everything that they had learned over the years. The students were all required to bring a Tanach with them, and though they experienced fun activities such as hiking, they were always learning.
Each year I tried to incorporate something new into the program. One year I introduced the idea that on Erev Shabbat we would travel around Yerushalayim seeking brachot for the students from well-known gedolim. We were able to arrange an audience with Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel, zt”l, the rosh yeshiva of the Mir Yeshiva in Jerusalem, as well as with the renowned Rav Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg, zt”l.
Though Rav Finkel was stricken at the time with Parkinson’s disease, he nevertheless led what probably is one of the largest yeshivas in the world. His speech was difficult to comprehend yet we could feel that we were in the presence of greatness. Rav Scheinberg, on the other hand, was already over 100 years old. It was difficult to have lucid moments with him; however, when he did open his eyes, he smiled at the children and bestowed upon them a bracha, and again we could feel that we were in the presence of regality.
In each of these cases what affected me most in meeting them was the plain and humble lives that both these holy men lived. When we visited each of these gedolim, there was no pomp or opulence. Rather there was simplicity surrounded by an air of nobility. You knew that this was the way a Jew should live – not as a pleasure-seeker but rather, like Moshe Rabbeinu, as an individual who demonstrates humility and a keen awareness of his mortality and dependence on the kindness of Almighty G-d.
Coming from our society in the United States where the stress very often is on those fleeting moments of physical pleasures and the lavishness of our world, it was refreshing to see that our leaders represented what was truly important in life – that which the Torah defines as our teacher Moshe’s greatest attribute: humility.