Lesson in Humility
While it is great to feel good about ourselves, sometimes we make the mistake by boosting ourselves up by putting others down. This week's Torah portion teaches us about the curative process a person would have to go through who was had tzaraat, a spiritual disease that used to afflict people. Our sages teach us that the underlying cause of tzaraat was that the person had grown arrogant and conceited. The lengthy cure helped him become more humble, and down-to-earth. The Torah considers humility to be one of the best and most spiritual of traits and wants us to learn how to like ourselves, without having to prove we're better than the other guy.
In our story, a boy gets a lesson in humility.
You could hear a pin drop in Mr. Anderson's Biology class as the teacher made his way up and down the aisles. The kids all held their breaths as the he passed back their graded final exams.
This test was the most important of the year, and had a lot to do with what kind of grade each student would receive. After the teacher handed back all the tests, he stepped out of the classroom to get some teaching materials. That was the signal for pandemonium to break loose, as the kids all started to talk about their test results.
Some gave each other high-fives, other just sat there shaking their heads in disbelief. Marc Savoy, who was known as one of the top brains in the class turned to Alan, the boy sitting next to him, who was also a top student, and Marc's chief competition.
"Not too bad, if I say so myself," Marc said as he flashed Alan and the rest of the class a look at his test, with a big, fat "96%" written on the top. It really was a great grade on such a hard test. None of the other kids had gotten close. "So, Al," he said, in a loud voice, "How did you do on the test?"
Alan lowered his eyes in a way that made the answer clear.
Sensing victory, Marc went on in a mocking tone. "C'mon, show us all, it can't be that bad, can it?"
Alan obviously looked uncomfortable. "What does it matter? You did great. Congratulations," Alan said, hoping that would end the conversation.
But Marc wouldn't let up, and soon he and a few of his buddies were arrogantly teasing Alan about the terrible grade that he was afraid to show them. Soon the teacher returned, and everybody calmed down. The recess bell rang, and all the kids went out to play. But Marc hesitated outside the door.
Winking to his friends, Marc said, "Stick around, guys. I noticed that Alan folded up his test and stuck it in his notebook. Let's go back in there and take a look at it. If it's as bad as I'm sure it is, we'll have a good laugh and stick it up on the bulletin board, for all the world to see!"
His friends nodded at the great idea, and agreed that Marc wasn't called the brains of the class for nothing.
When the coast was clear, the guys snuck into the empty classroom and made their way to Alan's desk. "Let me have the honors," Marc demanded as he leafed through the boy's notebook. "Got it!" he said, snapping up the folded piece of paper.
His friend looked on with big smirks on their faces, waiting for a show. "C'mon Marc, what did he get? A 70? A 60? Lower?"
But Marc didn't react. He just looked at the paper in disbelief. The paper dropped from his hand, and the guys all ran over to look. They were shocked to see written on it a big, fat ... 100%.
The mocking smirks immediately disappeared from everyone's faces as they realized they had all gotten it wrong. Alan didn't hide his test for his own sake, but for theirs - so they wouldn't feel bad. The boys, especially Marc, walked away with a lot of newfound respect for Alan, the humble boy who not only had the biggest brain in the class, but the biggest heart.
Q. How did Marc feel when Alan first refused to show him his test?
A. He felt conceited, and assumed that Alan wasn't showing him because Marc beat him by getting a higher score on his test.
Q. How did Marc feel after he saw Alan's test?
A. He saw how Alan had really done better than he did, and he was being humble and not bragging about it. Marc felt sorry that he had acted conceited.
Q. What does it mean to be humble?
A. When we have or do something good, there are two ways we can react. One way is to act arrogantly, and brag about it to others, and even try to make them feel bad that they don't have what we do. But this isn't right. The other option is to be humble about it, and not let it get to our heads. Rather, we should quietly feel grateful for what we have, and at the same time recognize that it doesn't give us the right in any way to put others down.
Q. Why was Marc so surprised to see that Alan had gotten such a great grade?
A. Marc had assumed that if Alan had anything to brag about, he would have, just as he had done. He imagined the reason for Alan's muted response was that he had done poorly. His surprise came when he realized that Alan had even more to brag about than he did, and chose instead to take the more spiritual path of caring not to make others feel inferior, even though he could have.s
Ages 10 and Up
Q. What is the difference between humility and low self-esteem?
A. Despite the surface resemblance, they are really very different. Humility is a sign of high self-esteem. It indicates that a person feels so good about himself inside, that he doesn't need to prove his worth to anyone else, through bragging, etc. It is really the boastful, arrogant type that is trying to cover up for his insecure feelings about his self-worth, and deep down only sees himself as a wannabe, of what the humble person already is.
Q. What does a person's level of humility say about his relationship with God?
A. The closer a person feels to God, the more humble he will be. This is because he clearly sees that everything good he has is a gift from God, and nothing to be arrogant about. Every gift he receives is just another reason to be grateful.