Parashat Ekev

The Challenges Of Humility

We should respond to our prosperity with recognition of the factors that lead to our success and with humility before God.

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Why is it so difficult to remain humble when we are engaged in acts of creation? Since we live in a world in which science gives us so many answers and the ability to do so many things, how is this especially true for us? What recent scientific advances might lead us to take God for granted and believe too strongly in our own powers?

Which leaders have influenced world events by their lack of humility? Which leaders have influenced world events by exhibiting humility?

By the Way…

A rich man once boasted to the Hafetz Hayyim [20th century rabbinic figure] that God had granted him great wealth and there was nothing he lacked. The Hafetz Hayyim said to him, "You should therefore devote a few hours daily to Torah study." The man replied, "I don't have the time for it." "If that is so," said the Hafetz Hayyim, "you are the poorest of the poor because if your time is not your own, what do you have? There is no person who is poor in time." (Y. Yefet in Torah Gems, volume III, p. 213)

The Kotzker [Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk, nineteenth century Hasidic figure] said that he was amazed people did not acquire an appreciation of God from the Grace after Meals. Indeed, we are told that the way in which Abraham spread the knowledge of God was by inviting guests to eat with him, and when they began to thank him for the meal, he would say to them, "I am not the one who must be thanked but the Lord of the universe." In that way, he made them true believers. We thus see that the Grace after Meals will bring one to a belief in God. (Mei-otzar Ha-Hasidut in Torah Gems, volume III, p. 209)

"The rich and poor meet: The Eternal is the Maker of them all" (Proverbs 22:2). The rich man usually thinks that he attained his wealth because of his brilliance, while the poor are generally looked down upon as ne'er-do-wells who cannot succeed because of a lack of ability. However, when "the rich and poor meet," when they happen to be in the same place at the same time, one can in most cases see that the poor man is no less intelligent than the rich one. (Tzvi Hirsh Berliner in Torah Gems, volume III, p. 213)

When you turn proud, remember that a flea preceded you in the order of Divine Creation. (Tosefta, Sanhedrin)

The greatest minds are those that, even in the act of creation, remain humble. (Fioretti Luzzatti, cited in A Treasury of Jewish Quotations, p. 192)

Your Guide

Based on these texts, how do you think that Judaism views humility and a lack of it?

What do these texts suggest as possible antidotes to a lack of humility? With which antidote(s) do you agree?

How does the Hafetz Hayyim define the rich and the poor? How does this text resonate for us today?

D'var Torah

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Paula L. Feldstein is a rabbi at Temple Emanuel, Worcester, MA.