OU Women's Alit Top

The Humility of Moshe Rabenu

Dec 23, 2010

Three months after Moshe Rabenu was born, his mother placed him in a wicker basket which she placed among the reeds at the bank of the river.  Pharaoh's daughter Bitya went to bathe by the river and spotted the basket.  The Torah describes her opening the basket and finding the person who was destined to become Moshe Rabenu: "she opened it and saw him, the child, and behold! A youth was crying.  She took pity on him and said: 'this is one of the Hebrew boys'" (Shmot 2:6).

How did she know that this was a Jewish child?  Although it was customary for the Egyptians to place only Jewish children in the water, Chazal teach us that on this day Pharaoh decreed that the Egyptian children be placed in the water as well.   Perhaps she noticed that he had a brit milah, but this as well would not have been a necessary indication for Chazal tell us that Moshe was born circumcised.  From a physical perspective, this could have been the case with an Egyptian as well.

The pasuk we quoted above states: vatiftach vatirehu et hayeled "she opened it and saw him, the child".  What does it mean she saw "him, the child"?  Why not simply state "she saw a child"?  Who is the "him" referred to here?  Chazal tell us that she saw the Shchina, the Divine Presence, with the child.  It was from this that she understood that this must have been a Jewish child.  Perhaps we can explain that her conclusion "miyaldei haIvrim zeh" which we translated above "this is one of the Hebrew boys", can also be translated as: "this (the presence of the Shchina) is from the fact that this child is Jewish."  In other words, Moshe's high level, in addition to his own greatness, was due to his being a member of the Jewish nation.  I am not sure how much Pharaoh's daughter understood these matters, but she realized there was something special about this child - he radiated holiness.  As we mentioned, his holiness was due both to his own high level and to his being part of Klal Yisrael.

When Hashem informed Moshe while he was on top of Har Sinai receiving the Torah that the Jewish nation below had constructed a Golden Calf, He instructed Moshe: lech reid "go descend".  Rashi quoting Chazal interprets this to mean: "I put you on such a high level because of your being a member of the Jewish nation.  The Jewish people are no longer worthy of being on such a high level, so you must step down as well.  We see that Moshe's having reached such a high level was based at least partly on his being a member of Klal Yisrael in addition to his own accomplishments.

Avraham Avinu accomplished so much in his life, he had performed so many mitzvoth with such great mesirut nefesh and Kiddush Hashem, yet we find Hashem declaring His love for him: "for I have loved him, because he commands his children and his household after him that they keep the way of Hashem" (Bereishit 18:19).  Hashem declared that He loved him not only because of what he did but because he was able to influence future generations to follow the ways of Hashem.

Similarly, Moshe Rabenu with all his greatness he attained on his own, part of his greatness was that he brought the Jewish people closer to Hashem.  Without this he would not have attained the level he did.  This does not imply that he was not a great enough tzaddik on his own, but that the zchut of Klal Yisrael raised him even higher.
We observe two days of Rosh Hashana even in Eretz Yisrael.   Although there is a halachic reason for this, the Zohar writes that the first day of Rosh Hashana is dina kasha "difficult judgment", while the second day is dina raka "a soft judgment".  What does this mean?  If a person is simply judged for who he is, what is this distinction between a soft and difficult judgment?  My Rebbe HaRav Dessler zt"l explained as follows: on the first day of Rosh Hashana a person is judged simply for who he is, is he following in the path of tzaddikim or otherwise.  On the second day, however, he is judged as a member of Klal Yisrael, how much does he contribute to the Klal and how much does the Klal need him.  How much is he contributing to the future of Torah and Yiddishkeit.  It is possible for a person who is not such a great tzaddik to emerge with a positive judgment due to his contribution to the Jewish people.

It is for this reason that it is recommended before Rosh Hashana for a person to place himself in a position in which he is giving for the future of the Jewish people.  The Keneisiah HaGedolah, the convention of Haredi Jewry at the time, featured many talmidei chachamim, Roshei Yeshiva, and Hassidishe Rebbes sitting at the dais.  There was at least one person at the dais who was in all likelihood not a posek or a lamdan.  How did he merit such a seat of honor?  He knew how to work the sound system.  His seat among the honorees was not due to his own merit but to his being needed by the people at the convention.

This past week in Parshat Vayechi we read about the blessings Yaakov Avinu bestowed upon his children.  Each son was blessed not only for himself but for the role he was to play in Klal Yisrael.  For example, Shimon and Levi were meant to be divided and dispersed among the tribes.  This was in order that the Kohanim and Leviim assigned with the task of teaching Torah would be able to spread Torah throughout Klal Yisrael.  The tribe of Shimon was assigned the task of teaching small children.  Yehuda was blessed with kingship while members of the tribe of Yissachar were destined to become leaders of the Sanhedrin.  Each tribe was blessed for themselves as well as for the role they were to play in Klal Yisrael.

Moshe was given a major role as leader of Klal Yisrael, but he was a tzaddik in his own right as well.  Chazal teach us that he is equivalent to the 600,000 members of the Jewish people at the time.  The great Sanhedrin had 71 members, yet we find in the Gemara that Moshe alone was equivalent to a beit din of 71 members.

On the other hand, we find in Chazal that even had there been no Moshe and Aharon Hashem would have taken the Jewish nation out from Egypt as He had promised.  Moshe and Aharon due to who they were had the merit of being Hashem's messengers.  The same applies to Matan Torah - we find in Massechet Semachot that even had there not been a Moshe Rabenu Hashem would have still given to the Torah to Klal Yisrael.  Moshe Rabenu had the merit of bringing it down to us.

What was the essence of Moshe's greatness?  The most important element of his character was his humility, taking no credit for himself.  Avraham Avinu compared himself to "afar vaefer" - dust and ash.  Moshe Rabenu went one step further in saying of himself and Aharon: "venachnu ma" - what are we?  We are not even dust and ash.  Everything Moshe had he gave over to the Jewish nation taking nothing for himself.  Certainly he had other virtues - he was clever and he was a holy and saintly individual, but his greatest virtue was his humility.

My father z"l once explained that Moshe's relationship with Yitro, whose family we are also introduced to in Parshat Shmot, serves as an example of the extent of Moshe Rabenu's humility, how he truly thought nothing of himself. What would be our reaction if a guest were to enter our home and suddenly announce: "you should not be sitting with people the entire day, perhaps you should appoint judges to assist you"? Our reaction would probably be "YOU are going to teach ME what to do? Are you forgetting that I am the one who took the Jewish people out from Egypt, fought the war against Amalek, and that the manna fell in my merit"? We do not hear anything remotely like that from Moshe Rabenu. Yitro arrived with some nice ideas and Moshe humbly accepted his father-in-law's advice: "Moshe heeded the advice of his father-in-law and did everything that he had said" (Shmot 18:24). Of course Moshe first asked Hashem whether he should heed his father-in-law's advice, but personal interest and pride did not figure at all. This made Moshe worthy of giving us the Torah.


The pasuk tells us "the man who listens will speak eternally" (Mishle 21:28). Moshe Rabenu listened to Yitro and was able to accept what he was told. When Moshe Rabenu would hear Hashem's word he would relay it to the Jewish nation without it being the least bit tainted by his own interests. It is owing to this total self-negation that Moshe merited receiving his prophecy "Be-aspaklaria hameira" through a clear glass, as the Gemara teaches us: "All the prophets looked into a dim glass, but
Moshe looked through a clear glass" (Yevamot 49b). What does it mean to see through a "clear glass"? I do not really know how prophecy works, but from the little I can comprehend it appears that we can explain this as follows: When light passes through a clear glass it appears on the other side with no discernable change. This means that if it enters as white on one side, it will emerge as white on the other side. If we have a colored tinted glass however, light entering from one side emerges on the other side the same shade as the glass.

The same may be said regarding prophecy: "one prophetic signal may come to several prophets, but two prophets never communicate a prophecy in exactly the same words" (Sanhedrin 89a). The G-dly light shines upon all prophets in the same manner, all see the same prophetic vision yet they do not communicate this vision in the identical style. This is because the way the prophet absorbs this vision is influenced by the intricacies of his own personality. The prophet only relates the prophecy after it has "passed through" his own character and has thus been influenced. This idea goes so far as to say that if two prophets are found prophesying in precisely the same language we can conclude that they are false prophets who coordinated their "prophecy" beforehand (see ibid.).


An example of this can be found in the war involving Achav king of Israel. When Achav asked his prophets what the future had in store, we read: "all the prophets were prophesying similarly saying 'go up to Ramot-Gilad and triumph for Hashem will deliver it into the hand of the king'" (Melachim I 22:12). Yehoshafat, king of Yehuda, did not believe their prophecy, for in their reply they all used precisely the same words raising suspicion that they had prepared false prophecies. Yehoshafat then sent a messenger to the prophet Michaya who said that Achav in fact was going to be killed, and this is precisely what happened.

Similarly, no two people relate an event or scene in the same manner. Two different people can walk into the Beit Midrash, one will be impressed by all the books lining the walls, while the other will be impressed by the large number of students "ken yirbu", Baruch Hashem. In the laws of testimony, if two witnesses come to court to testify on a capital crime and they are asked what the weather was like outside, one may describe it as cold and the other as warm. The court would not view these two witnesses as contradicting each other. Perhaps one remembers a moment when the sun was out and the other remembers a sudden gust of wind. One may have been wearing a sweater, whereas the other was not. One may be very sensitive to the heat or to the cold, thus differences in testimony do not necessarily imply false testimonies. If, however, the two witnesses were to testify using precisely the same language, we must assume that they are false witnesses who prepared their testimony in advance and we therefore disqualify them from testifying (see Shulchan Aruch Choshen Mishpat siman 28, seif 10).

Moshe Rabneu saw Hashem's vision clearly, without his own persona having any effect on it.  Moshe totally negated himself and therefore he was the one worthy of giving us the Torah, he was nothing but the pure words of Hashem.  Other prophets would have presented it with their own interpretation.  

We are told that all the books of Tanach will be declared null and void when the Moshiach arrives with the exception of the Torah and Megillat Esther.  The Torah of course will remain because it contains the pure words of Hashem while the books of the prophets are intertwined with the prophets' own ideas.  With regard to Megillat Esther we find the opposite.  In the books of the prophets and Ketuvim we see the Hand of Hashem.  Esther can be mistakenly viewed as a story where everything happened through natural means.  A king got drunk - this is not the first time in history this has happened.  He then had words with his wife and eventually searched for a replacement queen.  None of this appears unusual.  The point of Megillat Esther is to teach us that even when the Hand of Hashem is not totally apparent we must realize that it is there.

Moshe Rabenu with his great humility was a pure representation of the power of Hashem and he was therefore able to bring us Hashem's words without even the slightest alteration.


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