Shavuot and Humility By Aviva Meshwork, Ramat Beit Shemesh, Israel
The mountains in the Sinai desert had heard the news that G-d was preparing to descend upon one of them in order to gift His most precious gift, the Torah, to the Jewish people. There is a midrash that tells us that a debate was ensuing between the mountains as to who would be chosen for the coveted position of being the mountain whom G-d would chose for this momentous event. The tallest mountains showed off their peaks, height and stature while the wide mountains touted their girth and sheer size! One by one, other mountains interjected and pointed out their merits, listing their qualities that would surely ‘influence’ G-d’s decision as to where He would present the Jews with His Torah. And yet all the while there stood a small mountain in both stature and width called Har Sinai (Mount Sinai). It was indeed this mountain that the Almighty chose to be the everlasting site where the Torah was presented to the Jewish people. But why?
According to Jewish thought, nothing is random. Hashem carefully and purposely plans every occurrence and creation, for our benefit. So what is the benefit of having the Torah given to the Jewish people on Mount Sinai? The answer to this lies in a very important lesson to our character development- the lesson of humility.
Before we continue, let’s define our terms. What is humility and what is it not. Humility, Jewishly speaking, is knowing our place before G-d and others as well. In other words, it is the realization that I am nothing at all without my gifts, talents and experiences- all of which were given to me by G-d. Let’s break it down. Someone is naturally athletic. Give ‘em a ball and they know exactly what to do with it! Know anyone like that? I do! This person is amazing with a ball and has the body of an athlete! Strong legs to kick with, fantastic hand-eye coordination, a beautiful swing, agility and great speed. Not to mention a love of sports and determination to improve. A person such as this could quickly think of him/herself as the source of this talent, because after all, it is his/her time that (s)he spends practicing and improving his/her skills. It is his/her choice to eat healthy, sleep properly and engage in other activities that will improve said skills and abilities. However, where did this natural talent and inclination come from? Who gives this person, the time, health, good food and other conditions to build their athleticism? Who is the Source of these blessings? The person who ponders these questions honestly and breaks it down, understands that the Creator essentially created all the gifts and circumstances in our lives that enable us to be unique, special and great. This person is a humble person.
Let’s now define what humility is NOT. Rabbi Shraga Simmons says that “Humility does not mean a meek reluctance to speak up or be assertive. Humility is not slouching your shoulders or having low self esteem.” Quite the contrary, Moses, who is defined as the most humble person to ever exist (Numbers 12:3), had to aggressively confront Pharaoh, fight in wars and stand up in front of the Jewish people to reprimand them. Doesn’t much sound like a meek man to me! Keep in mind that Har Sinai may have been small, but it was still a mountain- not a valley or flat land, but a mountain indeed.
There is a balance in life and it requires great effort to be a ‘humble mountain’ like Mount Sinai is. The balance lies in remembering that we are indeed special, unique and have innate greatness inherent in us- we are majestic mountains! Yet all the while remaining humble enough to know that we are not the source of that greatness. If G-d made you with fantastic leadership skills then lead your family, community etc. to the good! If you are a gifted writer and your writing has the potential to bring goodness in various capacities, then write! If you can teach so teach. Be good at what you do and take pride in your capabilities. However, hold onto the knowledge that the only reason why you are what you are and have the resources that you do is because G-d gifted them to you to and should be used responsibly.
Being humble and even more so, remaining humble takes constant work and mental commitment. Know anyone who became very successful in something and lost his/her humility while replacing it with a sense of self-righteousness? That person forgot who they are vis a vis the One Who Created them.
What a powerful and important lesson little Har Sinai provides for us! Have a meaningful Shavuot!