Humility, True and False

Behaalos’cha, the parashah immediately following Shavuos, begins with the mitzvah of lighting the Menorah in the Mikdash. The Menorah is a symbol of Torah, and the manner of its lighting shows how the word of Hashem that was given at Sinai and celebrated on Shavuos should be transmitted from generation to generation.

Rashi says that Behaalos’cha means raising the light, that Aharon should hold the flame to the wick until the light rises by itself. This, explains Harav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l (Darash Moshe), means that a rebbi must teach in such a way that he enables the light of Torah to shine by itself in the talmid, promoting his skills and independent thought. Better to elicit and inspire the talmid to ask the question and give the answer than for the rebbi to do it while everyone else listens passively.

This, of course, requires a certain self-effacement, making the talmid’s Torah the priority. It means, also, gearing the level of the shiur to that of the talmid. The more brilliant the maggid shiur, the more difficult this can be; one has to suppress his own thoughts for the benefit of those on a much lower level of comprehension.

In other words, the effective transmission of Torah demands humility. Who could be more suited to exemplify this trait than Aharon, who was described as ohev es habrios u’mekarvan l’Torah — loving people and bringing them close to Torah?

When Aharon learned that he had been passed over for the deliverance of Klal Yisrael in favor of his younger brother Moshe, he harbored no resentment. On the contrary, he accepted Hashem’s choice with love and joy, and went out to embrace Moshe and assist him in the historic mission.

In humility, Aharon and Moshe appear to be on a par. “I gave greatness to Moshe and Aharon, and they said, ‘What are we?’” (Shemos 16:7).

Moreover, Rashi notes that sometimes Moshe is mentioned before Aharon, sometimes Aharon before Moshe, indicating they were equal (Shemos 6:26).

But this requires explanation. Moshe was the Deliverer, not Aharon. Moshe alone ascended Sinai and received the Torah directly from Hashem. Moshe was the father of the prophets, whose prophetic vision was compared to seeing through a clear glass, whereas that of all the other prophets, including Aharon, was compared to seeing through a dark glass. Toras Moshe, not Toras Aharon. Clearly, they were not equal.

And the inequality was not only in Torah. In Parashas Behaalos’cha, the Torah declares unequivocally that Moshe surpassed everyone in humility: He was very humble, the humblest man on the face of the earth.

The Darash Moshe answers that they were equal in terms of fulfilling the mission of delivering the Jews from Egypt. Even though Moshe was greater overall, since Aharon was necessary to the mission — it could not have been accomplished without him — he was considered equal. More generally, although Moshe’s capabilities were greater, Aharon equaled him in doing his utmost to fulfill his own potential, just as Moshe did.

But regarding the issue of humility, we are confronted with a passuk clearly putting Moshe in a class by himself. How, then, could Aharon be coupled with Moshe in the abovementioned passuk, “What are we?” (Shemos 16:7).

Perhaps the answer can be found in the context. The people had been complaining that they had been taken from their meat and bread in Egypt to die of hunger out in the wilderness. It is in the context of bearing such unjustified grumbling (they were being sustained miraculously by the mann) that Aharon is presented as Moshe’s equal in humility.

However, that was a single incident. But it was Moshe who bore the brunt of complaint, accusation and rebellion during all the years in the wilderness, whereas Aharon was in that position far less. Overall, Moshe’s humility was unmatched. For despite everything, Moshe retained his faith in Hashem and his devotion to the people, even to the extent of asking to be blotted out of the Torah himself rather than seeing them destroyed.

More specifically, Moshe passed the test of true humility. Mesillas Yesharim says there is nothing worse than false humility (Chapter 22). This is the “humble” person who flees honor, only in order that honor will pursue him. He is ever looking over his shoulder to see if people are noticing what a tzaddik he is, how humble he is.

Conversely, when one perseveres in his humble ways — even when he receives not the praise and adoration of others but, rather, their criticism and complaints, and their accusations of actually seeking position and coveting prestige — that is evidence of authentic humility. He is not acting humble for the reward, since there is no reward.

That is why the Torah’s testimony about Moshe’s humility comes immediately after the incident in which Aharon and Miriam question his conduct, acting as if Hashem spoke only with him and not with other prophets as well. They accused him of a false humility masking pridefulness. Yet Moshe bore the insult silently. It is Hashem who answers for him, attesting to Moshe’s unique saintliness, while Moshe davens for Miriam to be healed (Ksav Sofer).

We cannot hope to equal the humility of Moshe or Aharon, but we can learn from them the signs of true humility. If we find ourselves anticipating certain honors for our saintliness, looking over our shoulder for approval, it’s time to look out.