Dealing with Adversity-Parashas Bo — The Blessings of Humility

During these weeks the parshiyos deal with the Ten Makkos that struck Mitzrayim. When Moshe Rabbeinu directed Pharaoh to free the Bnei Yisrael, Paroh answered arrogantly: “Who is Hashem that I should hearken to His voice to let Israel go? I do not know Hashem, nor will I let Israel go” (Shemos 5:2). Hashem then sent the Makkos to humble Pharaoh and compel him to comply.

Sforno comments that the Makkos were sent so that the Mitzri’im would understand clearly that Hashem is the Master of the world and controls everything and thereby repent for the evil they had committed.

The Haggadah Shel Pesach divides the first nine plagues into three categories, known mnemonically as D’tzach-Adash-B’achav. Harav Samson Rafael Hirsch, zt”l, notes that these three groups are linked to three fac­ets of Bnei Yisrael’s suffering during Galus Mitzrayim geirus, alienhood; avdus, ser­vitude; and inuy, affliction. The Egyptians would now experience these same conditions to “feel upon their own flesh the bitterness of the affliction they had brought upon their vic­tims.” D’tzach (blood, frogs, vermin) conveyed this by demonstrating the power of Hashem over water and the land; Adash (wild beasts, pestilence, boils), by showing His might over the land’s inhabitants. B’achav (hail, locusts, darkness) attested to Hashem’s dominion over the atmosphere that surrounded both the land and the people who lived there.

Makkas Bechoros concluded the series, after which redemption soon followed.

The Makkos constituted a humbling force of unprecedented dimension on Paroh and his nation.

Interestingly, cultivating anavah, humil­ity, is one of the many tikkunim appropriate in these weeks of Shovavim as part of its regi­men of teshuvah and introspection, discussed in sefarim of Kadmonim (authorities of ear­lier times), which appear in the sefer Yesod Yosef as cited by the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch. Pharaoh was intimidated via Hashem’s zeroa netuya — outstretched arm — which sent the Makkos to impart that lesson to him.

For most character traits, the Rambam (Hilchos Deos 2:3) advocates a “middle path.” But when it comes to arrogance and anger, he instructs us to go to the opposite extreme to rectify them. We should aim for extreme humility.

Sefer Orchos Tzaddikim provides some perspective on humility, telling us that one who acquires this trait is spared from many evils. Moreover, anavah is the root of avodas Hashem and a small act of a humble person is accepted a thousand times more than a more impressive act of a haughty man since we learn “The abomination of Hashem are all who are haughty of heart” (Mishlei 16:5). Fur­ther, the tefillos and mitzvos of such a person are not accepted.

Mishlei offers another powerful statement about the impact of humility: “v’laanavim yitein chein, Hashem gives favor to the hum­ble” (3:34). If someone is shamed — brought to a humbled state — that moment is an eis ratzon — a potent time for tefillah.

We see that haughtiness creates a barrier between oneself and Hashem. Challenges that come one’s way serve to arouse us to the need to work on humility and remove this barrier.

A Rav once gave a talk about working on humility. Afterward, someone approached him, saying, “This was such an appropriate topic to discuss when so-and-so was in the audience. He really needs to curb his arro­gance!” The Rav marveled at that comment — from a person who himself was quite lacking in that area!

Do we try to seek the good in people or their faults? Are we patient with others? Do we clamor for everything to always go our way? These are among the questions to ask ourselves to know if arrogance is an issue in our lives that needs to be addressed.

Rabbeinu Avraham ben HaRambam in Hamaspik L’ovdei Hashem (perek zayin, Anavah) discusses ways to cultivate anavah. These include acting with external forms of humility that will change one’s internal atti­tudes, habituating oneself to act kindly with those who are troubled and enduring the denigration one receives from such a person while refraining from acting that way toward others,

The Gemara in Megillah (15b) questions why in the Purim story, Esther invited Haman to her banquet when Achashverosh was the address for her urgent plea to save her people.

Rabi Shimon ben Menasya answers that, by degrading herself through flattering this rasha, Esther hoped that Hashem would respond to Klal Yisrael’s grave plight and intercede with a miracle. Why did Esther deem this necessary? The Yidden had fast­ed and davened intensively for three days. Wasn’t this sufficient to arouse Heavenly intervention? Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz, zt”l, explains that this self-abasement on the part of Esther shows how going against the trait of seeking honor could lead to Divine interven­tion. Her efforts to minimize her stature con­tributed significantly toward bringing about Klal Yisrael’s rescue from a most formidable foe.

Similarly, we have no idea what such efforts could accomplish in terms of invoking Hashem’s compassion and blessings on both a communal and individual level in these challenging times.

Rabbi Yosef Gesser is a longtime writer for Hamodia Newspaper as well as an inspirational speaker on vari­ous topics, including dealing with adversity. He can be reached at

To Read The Full Story

Are you already a subscriber?
Click to log in!