For the Sake of Peace
Rabbi Isser Zalman Meltzer was a great sage in Jerusalem 100 years ago. Once, during one of Rabbi Meltzer's Talmudic lectures, a young man who did not usually contribute to the discussions, spoke up - arguing that Rabbi Meltzer's interpretation contradicted the great Talmudic commentator, the Sfas Emes. Rabbi Meltzer, a noted Talmud scholar himself, apologized for his mistake, but asked permission to continue.
After the class, one of Rabbi Meltzer's top students approached him and said: "Rabbi, I don't understand. First of all, your interpretation was not at odds with the Sfas Emes. And secondly, even if it was, there was nothing wrong in offering a differing interpretation."
Rabbi Meltzer explained: "I noticed that there was an older man in attendance who does not usually come to my lectures. Also, the student who asked me the question usually does not participate in the discussions. I thought these two unusual circumstances may be related. Perhaps the older man was looking at the student as a prospective son-in-law. If that were the case, I did not want to put the young man in a negative light."
One week later, Rabbi Meltzer's supposition was proved correct: The student who had posed the challenge in class became engaged to the older man's daughter.
True humility entails a willingness to put oneself in a bad light if it will help others.A prime example can be found in this week's Torah portion, Korach.
Korach, a cousin of Moses and Aaron, launches a rebellion against them. He claims that they have unfairly seized leadership roles and have ignored the prophetic powers of the rest of the nation. Korach says that Moses and Aaron are no holier than anyone else - and he ridicules their teachings. Datan, Aviram, and 250 others join Korach's cause.
Were the rebels' claims justified? No - they were patently absurd! Who would accuse Moses of snatching power, when in fact Moses had to be persuaded by the God to take a leadership role in the first place!? Moreover, the Torah describes Moses as "the most humble of all men." Wielding power was the last thing on his mind!
Moses tells the rebels, though, that if they have any doubts about his designation of Aaron as High Priest, he is willing to conduct the following test: Each person who lays claim to Aaron's position should bring an incense offering to God, and whoever the Almighty chooses will become the High Priest. Moses is willing to put his position on the line in order to mollify the rebels.
Then, in a stunning example of humility, Moses asks to meet with Datan and Aviram. Though they have been provocateurs, and Moses risks humiliation by meeting with them, he still tries to make peace.
Characteristically, Datan and Aviram rebuff Moses' offer and insult him. With this last ditch effort being met with failure, the die is cast and the unfortunate episode ends with the ground opening up and swallowing the rebels.
We can derive a dramatic lesson from this story. Though he was totally in the right, and though he exposed himself to insult and humiliation, Moses did all he could to stop a tragedy. In acting this way, Moses provided subsequent generations with an exemplary model of what constitutes true humility, and showed how far one must go to put ego aside for the sake of peace.