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Parashat Bereshit

If you had one message to pass on to your children, one lesson, one virtue, what would it be? The Ramban, one of our people’s greatest rabbis, left one message to his son, and to all of us, in his Iggeret. Humility. And he promises us that any day that we take humility to heart, G-d will give us our heart’s desires! Why is humility such an important thing? I will explain, but first, allow me to relate a recent coaching experience.

A certain Rosh Yeshiva sent an 18 year-old boy to me to help him overcome his fears. When he phoned me, I went straight to the point, using some CBT tools from my toolbox. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy focuses on challenging and changing unhelpful thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes. “What are you afraid of?” “I am afraid that I have fears that others don’t have.” “ Like what?” “Like that I might get old, and be alone, and then die.”

I challenged his fears. I guided him. And then, at the height of my work, when he confronted the fear of death, and I helped him not to be afraid … the battery on his phone died. He did not call me back, so a day later, I called him. He said he did not call me back, because I made his fears worse. I said that we had only just begun, and we should continue. I think we should meet in person. (Something I regret not having done at the outset.) He said that he would call me back, if he was interested.

Since the Rosh Yeshiva was already involved with and responsible for the boy, I felt the responsibility to tell him how our conversation went, and that the boy is no longer in touch with me. Hearing how I worked with the boy, the Rosh Yeshiva smiled, and said, R’ Yosef, you were too good. You conquered his fear; but now, he is afraid of you. He must be afraid that if you won over his fears so easily, while he could not do this easy thinking on his own, he must have a real anxiety problem!

How did I forget the first thing that R’ Geizler taught us in coaching? The coach’s job is not only to help make the client great, but to make him feel great as well! To put him in the spotlight. If I come out being Mr. Smarts, if I “won”, and the client comes out feeling inferior, that is not coaching. If the solution is too obvious, or if I feel I can solve a problem like fear of death in one session, I am not doing my job. Because the job of the coach is to make himself small, so that the client can make himself big.

After giving what the Rosh Yeshiva told me some thought, I realized the following lesson. Humility is a much better self-help tool than CBT, challenging the negative thoughts and beliefs, or any other gentile method. G-d made life in a way that life itself makes us humble.  We have no power over death; we can just do our best to live a healthy lifestyle. We have no power over aging. No matter what we do, age somehow creeps up on us. And the best chance we have over not being alone in life is if we learn how to get along with people better, something that requires humility.

Rabbi Shimon ben Pazi questioned the contradiction:  one passuk says that Hashem made two luminaries, while the other passuk says, “the big luminary and the small luminary”.  The moon said before G-d, Master of the Universe, can it be that there are two kings ruling under the same crown? (How can both the sun and the moon rule the world equally?) G-d told her, Decrease yourself. “Master of the world! Because I expressed before You a good point, I need to make myself small?” G-d appeased the moon: Go and become what the Jewish Nation will use to count days and years… And the tzaddikim will be called “small”, in your name. G-d saw that Moon was still not appeased, so He said to His People, Bring an atonement for Me, for I have made the moon small. Resh Lakish says, that is why on Rosh Hodesh, the Torah says to bring a goat of atonement “for G-d”. This goat is an atonement for G-d making the moon small (Chullin 60b).

If G-d needs atonement in any way, why do the Jews need to bring it? And what type of consolation is it that the Jews would use the moon for their calendar, or that the great men are called small?

It is obvious in the words of the Blessing on the New Moon, that there is a parallel between the moon and the Jewish Nation. The moon reflects the sun. The Jews reflect G-d. Gentiles’ calendars are solar, while Jewish calendars are lunar. Similar to the dynamic factor of the moon, the Jewish People go from small to becoming great, for our Nation has its times of darkness and its times of glory. And similar to the moon, the Jews are to be a beacon of faith in a world lacking in G-dliness and morality. But the greatest similarity of all is the element of reflection. The belief of our religion is that we are only a reflection of G-d, and what G-d wants us to have is exactly what we will have. Therefore, one of the fundamental beliefs of our Nation, is that the greatest way to go through this world is with humility. This is the message we are meant to learn from the moon.

In Judaism, in the self-help of the Torah, Humility is first and foremost. But the gentiles and their philosophers are not too impressed with humility. Aristotle omits it from his catalogue of virtues; both David Hume and Friedrich Nietzsche are critical of the humility trait. “Humility is a trait that serves no manner of purpose; neither advance a man’s fortune in the world, nor render him a more valuable member of society; neither qualify him for the entertainment of company, nor increase his power of self-enjoyment.”

Advancing fortunes? Becoming qualified entertainment of company? Increasing power of self – enjoyment? Since when are these the purposes of life? How dumb! That’s the American lie. So many people have learnt, after much frustration and failure, that this is not what life is about. The only purpose that has real value in Nietzche’s list, is becoming a more valuable member of society. And humility is probably the most fundamental trait you need in order to become valuable to others. The gentiles do not like humility, because humility is acceptance that G-d is in charge. In Judaism, life is about accepting that G-d runs your world, not you. And the greater your humility, the more successful you will be. If you don’t have good relationships in your family, or with people you know, if you are not entertaining, or if you do not enjoy life, the problem is likely to be an inflated ego, something that can actually be remedied through humility. Humility is something that G-d wants from His people, and that is the secret of success of all the Tzaddikim: they make themselves small.

The Midrash adds to the conversation between Moon and G-d. G-d said, I really wanted to make you great, and the sun small. But, since you complained, make yourself small, a 60th of the sun.  Moon asked, “Why, because I made a point, You make me small?” G-d answered, “That is why, in the future, when Mashiach comes, I will make you great”וְהָיָ֤ה אוֹר־הַלְּבָנָה֙ כְּא֣וֹר הַֽחַמָּ֔ה וְא֤וֹר הַֽחַמָּה֙ יִהְיֶ֣ה שִׁבְעָתַ֔יִם כְּא֖וֹר שִׁבְעַ֣ת הַיָּמִ֑ים בְּי֗וֹם חֲבֹ֤שׁ יְקֹוָק֙ אֶת־שֶׁ֣בֶר עַמּ֔וֹ וּמַ֥חַץ מַכָּת֖וֹ יִרְפָּֽא (Yeshayahu 30;26)  (Midrash Konen).

G-d is waiting for us to be really humble, and in that merit, He will bring Mashiach. In most Siddurim, after the three Amidahs, there is a humility prayer. May it be the will in front of You G-d, that I not become jealous, nor that others become jealous of me. That I not become angry, and not make You angry. And save me from my Evil Inclination. And put in my heart, humility and modesty, and fear of G-d. Our King, Our G-d. Make Your Name one in Your world, and build Your Home. Fix Your Sanctuary and gather our exiles. Free Your flock, and make Your congregation rejoice hurriedly in our days. And place our portion in Your Torah. Amen. Look at how great G-d will make us, if we would only work on our humility!

The moon is still small today, until Mashiach comes, because we have not learned this lesson of humility yet.  And until we learn this lesson of humility, G-d wants us to bring the atonement sacrifice, every Rosh Hodesh. May we merit to be humble, speedily in our days.




About the author, Yosef

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