The Humble Rabbi

[Be-Ahavah U-Be-Emunah – Miketz 5774 – translated by R. Blumberg]


Every person is obligated to be humble (Rambam, Hilchot De’ot 1-2.  Mesillat Yesharim 11).  All the more so a Rabbi must be humble. He must be humble vis-à vis the Rabbis of previous generations, and humble vis-à-vis the Rabbis of his own generation.

First, he must be humble vis-à-vis the Torah giants of previous generations. He must realize that compared to them, he is nothing. As Maharal said in the introduction to his work, “Be’er Ha-Golah”: “A man’s perfection…consists of appraising oneself properly and not foolishly… The fool compares himself to those of previous generations and says, ‘I, too, have a brain. Those days of old were not as good as our own.’ The Sages of the Talmud were humble, and they said: ‘Our predecessors’ intelligence was as expansive as the entranceway to the Temple Hall [Ulam] and that of the more recent Sages was as small as the entranceway to the Temple palace [Heichal]. As for myself, I am like a minuscule needle hole’ (Eiruvin 53a). The earlier sages were total intelligence…whoever likens himself to the earlier sages is doubly a fool. He does not recognize the worth of those sages and he does not know his own worth” (Introduction to Be’er Ha- Golah, pp. 9-10).

Humility vis-à-vis the Rabbis of his own generation: He must realize that he does not possess all the truth, justice, integrity, Torah or wisdom. He must not seize honor at his fellow’s expense, saying, “I am the real Jewish People, whereas those others are extremists.”

Certainly not! The Jewish People means the entire Jewish People.

The humble Rabbi shoulders the yoke with his fellow Rabbis (from the forty-eight means by which the Torah is acquired – Avot 6). He does not agree with his colleague on every point, but he cooperates with him. He does not say, “It’s me or nothing.” He does not suffer over the fact that he has no monopoly on a connection to the Jewish People, and no monopoly on popularity.

How humble were Beit Hillel, who would not only quote the opinions of the competing Beit Shammai, but would quote them before their own opinions.

The humble Rabbi knows that he cannot, alone, solve all the problems of the Jewish People. Rather, he must devotedly engage in his own G-d-given share in the Torah. He certainly must not discount any Rabbi who is unlike himself.

The Maggid from Moznitz expounded regarding the verse, “This is the Torah of the Guilt Offering – it is holy of holies” (Vayikra 7:1): What makes a person cast blame on his fellow man? The thought that he, himself, is holy of holies, a total saint.

Our watchword must be to “dwell within our people” (Melachim 2 4:13). The Zohar explains several times that one who goes it alone places himself in danger. By contrast, one who goes along together with the entire nation is protected by the divine light that rests over us all.