"An egotist is a self-made man who worships his creator."
—John Bright, 19th century British Statesman

Leaders must believe in themselves—otherwise no one else will. Their confidence in their abilities must be strong as well as resilient.

But they cannot allow self-assurance to become arrogance. As one saying puts it: "It's okay if other people think you're great, but you're in trouble if you start believing it."

This idea is found in the Talmud, which tells us of a dual oath that every soul is made to take before being dispatched to this world to inhabit a body. It must swear that it will strive to be righteous. And that even if (as a result) the entire world proclaims that it is righteous, it should humbly consider itself imperfect in its own eyes.1

Your biggest enemy," G‑d tells us, "is not necessarily evil, but your self..."Now, the first part of this oath is self-understood. The soul is about to descend into a world where the lure of evil is at least as strong as, if not stronger than, the appeal of good. Thus the soul can do with being "sworn in" to the offices of righteousness.

But the second part of this vow is absolutely profound. "Your biggest enemy," G‑d tells us before we enter a world of vanity, "is not necessarily evil, but your self." So great is the challenge of egotism, that a special vow was instituted for the unborn soul, to instill within her the grave danger of this pitfall!

(This also teaches us that ego is not to be found exclusively among the wicked. Even a person so righteous that the entire world is proclaiming his greatness must beware of ego.)

In fact, by G‑d's own admission, the only quality He absolutely cannot tolerate is egocentricity. About the egotist G‑d says, "He and I cannot live together."2

But how does one constantly remember his oath of humility, let alone implement it? How is one meant to be both successful and humble, when ego seems like the inseparable companion of success?

While we're meant to remember the source of our fortune – that it's "G‑d's blessing that generates wealth"3 – for some reason when luck shines upon us, we're often struck with a severe case of amnesia.4

Ancient Romans had a tradition of welcoming home victorious military commanders with a state-sponsored procession. Legend has it that a slave would stand next to the commander in his chariot holding a golden laurel above his head—and whispering into his ear, "Remember you are mortal..."

That's one possible solution.

But it doesn't seem to help people like me, who have long fired, or never hired, that type of slave.

At the Top of the World

Moses reached the pinnacle of his career as he climbed the peak of Mt. Sinai. Everything he had struggled for, all the sacrifices he'd made, had finally borne results.

From shepherding sheep he'd come to lead lions. What an honor and privilege!His people had at last become G‑d's people. His nation, having recently been freed from slavery, had been called upon to bring freedom to an entire world—to be a "light unto the nations." Just a short while back, his flock had been followers; now they'd become leaders. From shepherding sheep he'd come to lead lions.

What an honor and privilege!

Additionally, at Sinai he had served as G‑d's mouthpiece, personally communicating (for the most part) the message that would most affect and alter the course of world history.5

How many people could boast that they had a hand in developing and delivering the world's most famous book? How many people could claim to have had as much influence on our world as Moses has come to have?

That all in addition to performing some of the greatest miracles ever.

He had every reason to be proud. Most others in his position would have taken off on an incredible ego trip, only ascending to an even higher altitude upon descending the mountain.

But not Moses. In fact, he is the only person to be called "humble" by the Torah, which attests, "Moses was exceedingly humble, more than any person on the face of the earth!"6

How to Celebrate Achievement

Perhaps one of the greatest expressions of Moses' humility was the way he chose to celebrate the huge milestone he had just reached.

Instead of celebrating himself, he chose to celebrate others.

Straight off the mountain, and the enormous high he experienced there, Moses prepared a meal in honor of his father-in-law's recent conversion.7 Others in his shoes might have sought to highlight their own sacrifices and achievements; Moses called a party to honor Jethro's.

Organizing this celebration becomes even more extraordinary when we take into account that Moses hadn't had a decent meal in weeks, never mind a good night's sleep. To be precise he hadn't eaten or slept in forty days.8

"But where was Moses?" Rashi asks. Where had the party-planner disappeared to?Add to that the intense awe, wonder, and trepidation experienced at the Sinaic revelation; plus large doses of shock, trauma, and pain experienced upon descending the mountain to see his people worshiping idols; throw in some painstaking negotiations for his nation's very survival; sprinkle in immense joy and relief at gaining their pardon. And then shake it all together with some over-the-top study sessions with G‑d, and you have a wicked case of physical, emotional, and mental drainage.

Get the picture?

Moses didn't.

A Jew was just born. It's time to celebrate!

Waitering Around

The extent of Moses' humility becomes evident not only from who he chose to celebrate, but from how he chose to celebrate.

"And Aaron and all of the elders of Israel came to eat bread with the father-in-law of Moses before G‑d."9

"But where was Moses?" Rashi asks. Where had the party-planner disappeared to?

His simple answer is: "Moses was waiting upon his guests."

Moses isn't mentioned in this verse as a participant in the festivities because he wasn't one. He was too busy serving others.

He went from sage to scholar to elder, filling glasses like a common butler, serving food like an ordinary waiter.

Instead of getting a servant to remind him that he was a mortal, he served othersInstead of taking advantage of his position to lead, he served. Putting others before himself was his way of remaining humble.

Instead of getting a servant to remind him that he was a mortal, he reminded himself by serving others.

What's in It for Me?

In response to a chassid who complained that everyone at the synagogue was "stepping all over him," a wise Rebbe said, "That's because you put yourself everywhere, leaving nowhere else for people to step..."

If we make space for others, we take up less space.

By opening our hearts and inviting others in, our ego begins to feel out of place.

The best way to keep our own ego in check is to make place for someone else's.