Tightroping Between Humbleness and Haughtiness
The golden rule that our Sages suggest is in the middle of two extremes. Not too flamboyant and not too sparing, or not too openhanded and not too close-fisted. Not too courageous and not too cowardly. (Rambam Deot 1; 4) Humility is an exception to that rule. Our sages recommend that we be extremely humble. What is humbleness, and why do our sages recommend adopting it to the extreme?
There is a widespread misconception about humbleness. Moshe was the most humble of men. It was through this great degree of humility that he merited being the greatest of all prophets. Moshe taught the entire Torah to the nation, including the words Moshe was the most humble of all men. (Bamidbar 12; 3) He taught these words with all the interpretations and commentaries.
Imagine someone standing in front of a whole nation, explaining how he is the most humble person that ever existed and that will ever exist! Humbleness should not be confused with low self esteem. Moshe, who was most humble, did not lack self esteem. Humbleness should not be confused with shyness, the fear of what people might think or say about me. Humbleness is a level that can be achieved only after one attains a healthy self esteem, after achieving success. Only then, can one work on humbleness. Allow me to explain.
Humbleness is - "I am nothing without God". Not - "I am nothing." Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. A person who has low self esteem is not cognizant of his strengths and overlooks them. All my strengths, my good habits and capabilities, are bestowed upon me by God. Any good decision I make or have made, any good idea I have thought of or will ever come up with has been granted to me by God. God gave me the confidence to make that decision, and He gave me and gives me the creativity to come up with that brainstorm. The morning blessings is a great workout to help one achieve this mindset. It allows us to start off the day with prayers of thanks to God for granting the basics that He has given us.
Haughtiness is rooted in the belief that I did it, or I can do it all on my own. "I thought of the idea with my brain." Who gave you the creativity? Who gave you the intellect? God says, "I cannot live in the same world with the haughty person." (Sotah 5a) What does the Talmud mean by that? Once a person takes all the praise for himself, without a deep recognition of God's help, then he has pushed God out of his world.
There is a great e-book called The 21 Secrets of the Self Made Millionaire. Brian Tracey researched some of the secrets, the effective behaviors and habits of those who achieved financial success on their own. But the title has a heretical tone to it. No millionaire is self made, having attained his wealth without God. If you follow those secrets in the book, chances that God will allow you financial success are very high. But you can't do anything by yourself, without God. You can't even move a finger without Him.
This week's Torah portion lists all the curses that will befall the Nation if they do not heed the Torah. Then their hearts will be humbled, and then their sins will be atoned. (Vayikra 26; 41) After the curses, this is how it will all finish. A humbled Nation. It seems that the purpose of all the curses is to humble the Nation. God loves us so much, and yet He is willing to stand by and watch us be plagued by all the curses for the sake of acquiring humbleness. Because humbleness is not what we think it is. It is about making us aware of how much we are dependent upon God for everything we do in life. The purpose of all the curses is to eradicate haughtiness, to change the way in which we are accustomed to think that we, alone, deserve all the credit for our successes.
The more one focuses on thinking that everything one has is from God, the more only good will befall him. But the ball does not start rolling until one knows and recognizes his strengths, for only after one reaches success does the test of haughtiness or humbleness arise. This is the cycle. Learn your strengths, your resources. Feel the motivation to use them efficiently. Reach success and thank God.