Ben Zoma says:
Who is wise?
The one who learns from every person...
Who is brave?
The one who subdues his negative inclination...
Who is rich?
The one who is appreciates what he has...
Who is honored?
The one who gives honor to others...
(Talmud - Avot 4:1)
Our sages teach that the key to wisdom is humility, and the one thing that blocks our potential for wisdom is arrogance.
If I told you that I would introduce you to the humblest person on earth, how would you picture him? You would probably imagine him as small, bent over, soft spoken.
Yet the Torah described Moses as the humblest man who ever lived. Moses, who stood up to Pharaoh in Egypt, secured the release of the Jewish people, scaled Mount Sinai, spoke to God face-to-face, and led the Jews through the desert and to the borders of Israel.
How could a man who obviously possessed extraordinary qualities of leadership and strength be described as the humblest who ever lived? Because humility is recognizing that we have tremendous skills, talents, and accomplishments -- but knowing that they are all from God. The humble person is not the lowly, hunched-over. It is the person in touch with his greatness, who knows that the greatness has a Source.
But aren't my accomplishments my own? Wasn't I the one who worked hard in school and in business?
Imagine someone bursting with pride as he tells you the story of receiving an unexpected gift from his uncle:
I was looking through the mail and noticed a letter from my uncle. I had to open up the envelope and take out the letter that contained a check. Then I had to stand up and find my wallet. I had to open my wallet and put the check inside. Then I had to find a bank. When I got there, I had to open the door. Then I had to find the right line, stand there and follow the line to the teller. Then I had to lift the pen and sign my name. At last I had to take the money and put it in my wallet!
What's so difficult about cashing the check?! Who wouldn't cash it?!
In life, you went to school? You worked hard? You found a job? We say that all of these accomplishments are great, but don't forget -? you're just cashing the check.
God wrote the check.
Don't take pride in accomplishments, take pleasure.
ALL THE POWER?
We all know that God is behind the scenes and is the source for all. But sometimes we forget.
A man came over from Europe with five dollars in his pocket. After perseverance and hard work, he stands beside his successful factory and boasts, "Look what I built from nothing. I came here with five dollars in my pocket, and look what I made!"
That night his factory burns down. The man rushes to the scene, looks up to the Heavens and shakes his fist. "God, how could you do this to me?"
We make the mistake of thinking that on the way up it is we who built the success. But when things go wrong, we blame God.
That is arrogance.
Humility is power because it means knowing that I don't have all the power, that there are things more important than me. When we rely only on ourselves, we are limited. But when we connect to the Source of it all, we are tapping into unlimited resources, unlimited potential, unlimited power. Now we can do anything.
LIVING FOR IT
Humility comes when you know what's important in life. One way to discover that is to think: What would I sacrifice my life for? My family? My country? My people?
Rabbi Weinberg, the dean of Aish HaTorah, often says that when you know what you're willing to die for, then you know what to live for.
Many of us would give our lives for our families, and yet we spend little time with them compared to the time we spend at business and other activities. There are people who in a time of danger would be willing to give their lives for the Jewish people or the Land of Israel, and yet today their time and resources are barely allocated to either one.
Let's look at the Passover Seder and the Four Sons:
The wise son asks, "What are these statutes and ordinances...?"
Why is he called "wise?" It sounds like he doesn't know anything! We call him wise, because he is actively seeking to learn. He is curious, wants to grow, and values understanding.
Wisdom does not belong to the person who has memorized the most Torah. Wisdom belongs to someone who, through humility, is open to learning from every person he meets.
Everyone has unique talents, skills, and life experiences that you can benefit from. When God sends someone your way, find out how you can learn from him or her and you, too, will be on the road to wisdom.
Next installment: "Who is brave?"
Adapted from "Remember My Soul," by Lori Palatnik (Leviathan Press, Pikesville, MD, 1998)