Contact Us

What is Humility?

What is Humility?

 Email

Question:

With all due respect, rabbi, I don't think you could possibly give me a satisfying answer to the following question.

In the Torah it says, "And Moses was exceedingly humble, more than any man on the face of the earth". Very nice compliment, but who wrote this verse? Moses himself! Is that called humility?!

Answer:

Before I answer your question, allow me to make it even stronger. It also says in the Torah, "Moses spoke face to face with G‑d", "No man like Moses ever lived" and countless other similar praises. How could Moses write all this if he is indeed humble?

The question is based on a misunderstanding of what humility is. If being humble means thinking of yourself as a good-for-nothing scumbag then your question is a good one. But that's not humility. That's low self-esteem, which is the opposite of humility.

Truly humble people recognize their own talents and achievements. But they don't take credit for them. They feel that their talents are gifts from G‑d. They truly believe that their achievements are only due to the opportunities that came their way. No matter how successful, popular and gifted they may be, it won't go to their head, because they feel that it isn't their own accomplishment.

Moses was more humble than any man on the face of the earth. He was fully aware of the amazing feats that he had achieved. He took the Israelites out of Egypt, led them through the desert, spoke to G‑d on Mount Sinai for forty days and forty nights. No other human in history had reached such heights, and Moses knew it. But he truly believed that his greatness was a Divine gift, and had somebody else been given his opportunities they would have utilized them better than he did. He would look at the simplest of people and think, "If he was in my shoes, he would have been a better Moses than me."

To see yourself as worthless is not humility; that's just being ungrateful. G‑d has blessed each one of us with unique qualities, and we should be aware of that. In fact, only when we are aware of our self-worth can we be humble. We are humbled when we ask ourselves "I have been given the potential for greatness - have I used this gift?"

Aron Moss is rabbi of the Nefesh Community in Sydney, Australia, and is a frequent contributor to Chabad.org.
© Copyright, all rights reserved. If you enjoyed this article, we encourage you to distribute it further, provided that you comply with Chabad.org's copyright policy.
 Email
Join the Discussion
Sort By:
17 Comments
1000 characters remaining
Debra webb South Pasadena, CA October 18, 2009

Humility Thank you for this explanation. It really helped me put some things in perspective. Reply

Aaron October 17, 2009

Moses had humility The Torah existed before Gd created the universe.

Gd looked into theTorah, which served as his blueprint when he went to create the world.

Gd GAVE the Torah to Moses for us at Mt. Sinai.

We do not know HOW Gd did this giving. Some authorities say that Gd gave it all at once. Others say that Moses was contnuing to write it down over a period of years on parchment, made from the skin of a cloven-hoofed animal (an ox, a sheep, or a goat--or even a calf, in which case the parchment is called vellum).

Either way, the words are those of Gd, not of Moses. Moses humbly accepts the Torah as is, or humbly writes what he is told to write.

The Torah is not merely Divinely inspired. It is literally the WORD of GD.

Gd carved the first set of the ten commandments on stone.
When Moses broke the first set, Gd required him to gather up the pieces and put them in the Ark, & he also required him to carve the second set himself.

* * *

He didn't break the 2nd set. Reply

Robert Fuchs Jerusalem October 17, 2009

So I finally know, what I don't like on it.
The question is put like that on purpose, that that somebody who asks does not believe at all that there is something like G-d. Then I am asking what is the reason of that person, why he asks if he does not believe in G-d, then he cannot believe in Torah, then he cannot believe in main actor - who was Moshe and his purpose in this book - that is that He was most humble person in the world, and that was the reason, why G-d choose him for Himself as His spokesman Reply

Robert Fuchs Jerusalem October 17, 2009

To Karen Yeah, the question is weird. And that is why I do believe somebody wrote it on purpose like that Reply

Karen Joyce Chaya Fradle Kleinman Bell Riverside, CA October 17, 2009

HUMILITY...depends who ACTUALLY wrote... I don't believe Moishe wrote the Torah in printed words. There is no indication he had a computer, typewriter, papyrus or ink...and if he had papyrus, he'd have run out of ink in the 40 years of traveling. Therefore, although we THINK Moses "wrote" it, it is possible this was oral history, and the person who wrote the oral history added his own commentary. Believing Moses wrote the Bible is the same as believing G-d Himself physically wrote the Bible. The only thing we have recorded is that G-d wrote the 10 commandments with His own hand. Reply

Saul FC, Colorado October 16, 2009

To Edith Edith,

I think you misunderstand some of the frames of reference that the Rabbi is using. To fully understand, you really need to be Jewish or to study Judaism more fully, within your own faith/religion, i.e. Christianity.

By the way, "G-d helps those who help themselves" is not an accurate interpretation of what is going on the Torah. This is a very common mistake in Christianity, which uses improper English translations and interpretations of the Hebrew. Reply

Saul FC, Colorado October 16, 2009

Good job Rabbi Aron,

Very good explanation, thanks! Reply

André Rio de Janeiro, Brazil October 16, 2009

Humility part 2 …Moses would said: “Please oh! Mighty G-d! Chose him instead me!”. But who was Moses to disagree with G-D?

And through Moses, G-d performed His wonders. And lead the people of Israel o the promise land. And he did well. (of course it was not a nice trip). He even saw the face of G-d. The greatest achievement of all!!! And, in that exactly moment, Moses was so humble, that he refused to look straight into G-d´s face. Because he knew that could be someone better than him. And that is to be humble.

If you could look into G-d´s face, would you do what Moses did, or you would take a peack?

Think about it!

By the way:
Who writes these questions? lololol Reply

André Rio de Janeiro, Brazil October 16, 2009

Humility I undertood tha rabbi´s point of view. There is a big difference between being humble and being a loser. I always saw this diffrence that way.

What people did not realize is the difference between being proud and being a snob. And that´s the greatness of Moses. A snob belivers he/she is the one and no one else can be like him. In the other hand, a true proud person is the one who understand that his/her position in only temporaly.

Let´s imagine am athlete who brokes all records. One day, someone will break it (it is a fact). In this particular momment, the athlete has two paths to follow. One is no regonize the others records - Hiding himself in his on past glory. Or... he could reconize the other new record and even congratulate the other athlete with no jealously.
That´s the difference of Moses. Since the beggining, he said he was not the one to set the people free. (he even claim he was a steader). If G-d had found another guy, Moses... (to becontinue) Reply

Robert Fuchs Jerusalem October 16, 2009

Hi.
It is like with all those questions on Chabad.org.
Who wrote these questions? Reply

Alice October 16, 2009

I strongly disagree with your statement:
"To see yourself as worthless is not humility, that's just being ungrateful."
This is called depression.
Who am I to question a Rabbi?
Still I must say if I were going through a rough time, I may not choose you as my source of comfort.

* * *

What are you questioning?
The rabbi says we must avoid seeng ourselves as worthless.
Gd has given us a purpose, and has given us the gifts with which to fulfill that purpose.
We have no right to see ourselves as worthless.
The value of knowing this is that we are called upon to feel better.
It is very difficult to "feel better" merely for our own sakes.
It is very difficult to improve merely for the sake of our own improvement.
It is much more powerful to do so in order to serve something beyond ourselves, such as Gd.
So the rabbi's stance is not shaming.
It is invigorating.
It says, GD has empowered you, and GD values you.
And by the way I am going thru a rough time. Reply

Ann in Texas October 16, 2009

"Truly humble people ... don't take credit for ~their talents and achievements~"
but Moshe did, that's all.
Literally you agree with the writer of the question.
Your effort to turn it around is not convincing.
Why waste so many words if you agree?
Posted By Yigal, tel aviv

NO.

The rabbi DISagrees with the questioner.
Moses did not TAKE CREDIT FOR his talents and achievements.
He recognized them as gifts from Gd.
He did not pretend they did not exist.
He ACKNOWLEDGED THEM.
We are supposed to acknowledge them.
That differs profoundly from claiming CREDIT for them.

* * * Reply

Larry Brikman Toronto, Canada via jrcc.org October 15, 2009

Taking credit There is a big difference in taking credit, and giving credit where credit is due. No where in the Torah does Moshe ever state that he alone was responsible for the things he accomplished.

He always gave credit to G-d. And he recognized his abilities as Rabbi Moss said, "Truly humble people recognize their own talents and achievements"

He recognized his Divine gift, and never claimed that his destiny of leading the Israelites was to his credit alone.

So the statement that Moshe took credit is false. He recognized his merit, and gave credit to G-d. Reply

Yigal tel aviv October 13, 2009

so many words... "Truly humble people ... don't take credit for ~their talents and achievements~"
but Moshe did, that's all.
Literally you agree with the writer of the question.
Your effort to turn it around is not convincing.
Why wasting so many words if you agree? Reply

Anonymous Chicago, IL/USA October 13, 2009

What is humility? All of these beautiful comments reminded me of a little song sung by Rachel Buchman --

Great big stars way up yonder,
Great big stars way up yonder,
Oh my little soul is gonna shine, shine,
Oh my little soul is gonna shine, shine.

Great big moon way up yonder,
Great big moon way up yonder,
Oh my little soul is gonna shine, shine,
Oh my little soul is gonna shine, shine.

Great big stars way up yonder,
Great big stars way up yonder,
Oh my little soul is gonna shine, shine,
Oh my little soul is gonna shine, shine. Reply

Ann Nunes Houston, Tx April 12, 2007

humility--a tough nut to crack (Who am I to be great? Who am I NOT to be so? Being as best I can, I help all to be so.)

Max Ehrman's Desiderata says,

If you compare yourself to others, you will become vain and bitter...always there are lesser & greater persons than yourself....
You are a child of the universe. Like the trees and the stars, you have a right to be here.

One person IS a whole world. Gd illustrates this by making all humanity stem from one human couple (Adam and Eve). Destroying any one person is destroying a world. Everyone we meet, including ourselves, is so valuable that "the whole world was created for my sake" (Talmud).

This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine! (Negro spiritual.)

Alan Morinis defines humility as occupying my own spot on a bench. Not hogging the bench, & not half off, hanging over the edge, but just occupying & acknowledging the place that is for me, neither more nor less.

But now I have a question:
how do we know what that place is? Reply

Edith Brown Silver Spring, MD June 14, 2006

What Is Humility Moses is without a doubt the greatest leader of all time.
I agree our gifts are a blessing. I also believe G-d helps those who help themselves. Example: If I want to be a doctor - I must go to school.
I see nothing wrong in one being proud of their accomplishments. Afterall, isn't it healthy to praise children for good behavior?
I strongly disagree with your statement: "To see yourself as worthless is not humility, that's just being ungrateful." This is called depression.
Who am I to question a Rabbi? Still I must say if I were going through a rough time, I may not choose you as my source of comfort. Reply

Related Topics
This page in other languages