Humility—Finding the Correct Balance

Yitro: A resource for families.

Commentary on Parashat Yitro, Exodus 18:1 - 20:23

People will take greater notice of our actions than they will of our boasting about them. One of the most important things we can teach our children is not to think only about themselves. Being sensitive to the feelings of others comes naturally to some, but most need guidance to develop this skill. As parents, how we model this behavior is crucial. Having a humble spirit may mean not being easily drawn into a defensive argument when criticized.

In this week’s Torah portion, God delivers the Ten Commandments and Torah at Mount Sinai, a small, low, non-descript mountain. Stories (Midrash) explain why God did not choose other bigger, more beautiful and grander mountains all promoting themselves and expecting to be chosen. In these stories, God deliberately chose Mount Sinai, unimpressive and not expecting to be chosen, to show us the value of humility.

Humility in no way means low self-esteem. According to Rabbi Kook, the first chief rabbi of Israel, we should conduct ourselves with humility, but at the same time consider ourselves to be  of high worth because of our good qualities. Life is a difficult balance between maintaining humility and nurturing our self-interest and competitive impulses.

The ancient rabbis were much more concerned with overconfidence and arrogance than our being too accommodating to others.  An excellent test of being humble in spirit is the way we treat others of lesser abilities than ourselves. Do we treat them as inferior, or are we able to admire others for the strengths they have?

about having the security to act with humility.


·    When you are feeling self-confidence and pride in your achievements, how do you maintain humility?
·    Is there a downside to being too humble?
·    Does humility make us more or less accepting of the little annoyances of life?

© Copyright 2010 Joyce and Fred Claar

From “Values and Ethics: Torah Topics for Today,” available from Behrman House Publishers.


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