Click SHEMOT 2021 for download
THE ART OF BEING A NOBODY
Modesty is something that many praise, but few focus on. What a shame, because modesty is one of the main ingredients in being calm. Western culture teaches, and Hollywood preaches, to despise modesty. They teach that modesty and success are antonyms, while modesty and failure are synonyms. In western culture, you are either wildly successful, displaying luxury and extravagance, or a catastrophic failure, just background scenery. There is no calm, middle ground. These ideas have infiltrated into our systems as well. You have to be either a Rosh Yeshiva or a Gvir to be successful and sane, or to even be considered normal. The biggest confusion that Hollywood causes for the Torah Jew is that the greater and bigger you become, externally, the more successful you are. Judaism teaches how to proudly be a nobody, and that being unobtrusive is being G-dly. וְהַצְנֵ֥עַ לֶ֖כֶת עִם־אֱלֹקיךָ (Micha 6;8)
Most modesty is false and fake, and it can be spotted from across the room. Modesty without humility is false. Modesty doesn’t mean being a wimp; it means being soft spoken. It means not to be overwhelmed by your own self-importance, not to show off the good things you do. It means you shine the spotlight on others, and allow them to have the lion’s share of the talking when being social, because you know that the person speaking is the person having a good time. It means being under the radar, far from the fanfare.
G-d does His thing, modestly. He brings salvation from the stars he pulls out of the sewer, and from the people who are the biggest nobodies in society, He makes our nation’s biggest heroes. G-d picks for his all-star team people like Avraham, Moshe, David – the humblest of men. Since beginning of Creation, G-d is busy doing just two things: making shidduchim and flipping ladders, lowering the haughty and raising the humble. (Yalkut Shimoni) He is הַֽמַּגְבִּיהִ֥י, הַֽמַּשְׁפִּילִ֥י, מְקִ֥ימִ֣י, לְהוֹשִׁיבִ֥י, מֽוֹשִׁיבִ֨י, הַהֹפְכִ֣י, the Yud at the end pointing to the fact that that is what He always does, lifting the humble and humbling the haughty, and that is what He does, better than what anyone else can do. We see the message of the Yud ending in G-d’s everlasting empathy towards us in Galut, that He always resides in the thornbush, to feel our pain וּרְצ֥וֹן שֹׁכְנִ֖י סְנֶ֑ה.
G-d specifically picked someone who looked at himself as a “nobody” to be His messenger. As Moshe referred to himself as a nobody, וְנַ֣חְנוּ מָ֔ה, even after he brought the Ten Plagues on the Egyptians and split the sea. When G-d asked Moshe to take the role of leadership of the nation, Moshe said, “Every single person in the nation is more worthy than I”. שְֽׁלַֽח־נָ֖א בְּיַד־תִּשְׁלָֽח (See Ramban) Moshe was a nobody for the first 80 years of his life, David was a nobody for the first 28 years of his life, and they tried to stay a nobody, while changing the world, standing up for G-d and saving His people. Rachel knew, when she thought to marry R’ Akiva, that although now he was a simpleton, he had two things that would make him great: צניע ומעלי, modesty and good character. (Ketubot 62b) וַיֵּ֨לֶךְ מֹשֶׁ֜ה וַיָּ֣שָׁב׀ אֶל־יֶ֣תֶר חֹֽתְנ֗וֹ וַיֹּ֤אמֶר לוֹ֙ אֵ֣לֲכָה נָּ֗א וְאָשׁ֙וּבָה֙ אֶל־אַחַ֣י אֲשֶׁר־בְּמִצְרַ֔יִם וְאֶרְאֶ֖ה הַעוֹדָ֣ם חַיִּ֑ים וַיֹּ֧אמֶר יִתְר֛וֹ לְמֹשֶׁ֖ה לֵ֥ךְ לְשָׁלֽוֹם: When Moshe wanted to tell his father-in-law that he was going down to Egypt, he did not tell him that he was going to be the savior of the Jews and take them out of slavery! He just told him he wanted to go check on his brothers in Egypt. Why? Because G-d brings the redemption from things that are hidden and from people who hide themselves. When Tamar wanted to bring children from Yehuda, she needed to hide her identity. K. David was born and bred in the most hidden way. Why? Because eternity, redemption and anything G-dly are all reached through modesty.
This is why the Torah hides the names of Moshe’s parents. וַיֵּ֥לֶךְ אִ֖ישׁ מִבֵּ֣ית לֵוִ֑י וַיִּקַּ֖ח אֶת־בַּת־לֵוִֽי We all know that Moshe’s father was Amram, a Gadol Hador, and his mother was Yochebed, one of the greatest women of all time. Why hide their names? Because the greatest spiritual salvations happen in secret. The greatest Yeshivot, the greatest kollelim that built the greatest people were built without bringing attention to themselves. The reason why the first set of tablets of Ten Commandments did not last was because they were given with great fanfare, thunder and lightning; the whole world knew that G-d was giving His Torah to His people. יְֽקֹוָ֗ק עֹ֖ז לְעַמּ֣וֹ יִתֵּ֑ן (Zevachim 116a) Only the second tablets that were given in secret lasted forever. (see Rashi 34;3; M Tanhuma Ki Tisa 31)
When Moshe saw that Datan and Aviram could not keep the secret and told Pharaoh that Moshe had killed an Egyptian, using the Name of G-d, he said, אָכֵ֖ן נוֹדַ֥ע הַדָּבָֽר. Now, I know why we are still in exile, and we are not yet redeemed. (See Rashi) It is because we can’t keep a secret.
But, what is so bad if the Jews can’t keep a secret? The answer is that the way of Judaism is inner beauty, internal success, not external beauty, external success. The successful Jew, who is rich, smart, famous, or strong reached internal success.שמח בחלקו, כובש את יצרו, לומד מכל אדם, מכבד את הבריות. The truly rich man is happy with what he has; he is not happy because he has more than others. The truly strong man is one who is stronger than himself, not stronger than others. The truly wise man is the one who is always ready to learn. And the truly respectful man is the one who doesn’t need to be respected at all. All internal traits. Nothing external. A Jew who can’t tap into the beauty of the internal has never begun to practice Judaism, and he is living in a self-imposed Galut. He is not worth being redeemed. This is why we hide the Afikomen. Because the Afikomen represents the Korban Pesach, which is symbolic of the Redemption; and G-d always brings about redemption from the most hidden areas, from the things that don’t make sense to us. (Sfat Emet)
One who repeats something he heard from another and attributes the saying to the one who said it, brings redemption to the World. This is learned from Esther, who told Achashverosh that it was Mordechai who discovered Bigsan and Seresh’s plot to kill the king. (Avot 6;6) The Maharal asks two questions on this Mishna. First, we know that reward is always proportionate to the deed which was done, measure for measure. Why was redemption an appropriate reward for Esther’s willingness to give the credit to Mordechai? Second, many people throughout history have attributed their statements appropriately, yet they did not bring redemption!
The Maharal answers that since the redemption was to come through hidden miracles, G-d wanted it to come about through someone who was, herself, willing to remain “hidden” and not take any credit for herself. Esther “gave credit where credit was due.” The name “Esther” means “hidden” – because this was the character trait that made Esther the right one for the job.
It is amazing how G-d brings salvation from the hidden, and it is amazing how G-d brings down the haughty from, specifically, the things they are haughty about. ת”ר חמשה נבראו מעין דוגמא של מעלה וכולן לקו בהן שמשון בכחו שאול בצוארו אבשלום בשערו צדקיה בעיניו אסא ברגליו Five were created with some G-dly part to them, and they all fell -specifically – in those things. Shimshon, in his strength; Shaul, in his neck; Avshalom, in his hair, Tzidkiyahu, in his eyes; Asa, in his legs. (Sotah 10a) Avshalom’s downfall was specifically in what he was haughty about. Avshalom, rebellious son of King David, and a Nazir, had the most beautiful hair, ever. When he was running away on his horse from David’s warriors and Yoav B. Seruyah, his hair got caught in the branches of a tree, and he was suspended in the air, while his horse ran out from beneath him.
The greatest Reshaim, from Haman to Hitler, were brought to their downfall, from their very pride and haughtiness. Haman was hung on the same gallows he built to hang Mordechai and save his pride. Hitler, also, was brought down because of his obsession with “Heil Hitler”. In 1938, writer Erika Mann published a book called School for Barbarians: Education Under the Nazis. In it she writes, “Every child says “Heil Hitler!” from 50 to 150 times a day. The formula is required by law; if you meet a friend on the way to school, you say it; study periods are opened and closed with “Heil Hitler!”; “Heil Hitler!” says the postman, the street-car conductor, the girl who sells you notebooks at the stationery store; and if your parents’ first words when you came home for lunch were not “Heil Hitler!”, they were guilty of a punishable offense and could be denounced.
This is how the Brits won the war. Alan Turing and his mathematicians and cryptographers were attempting to break the Enigma Code, the code that was used to encrypt highly classified messages, which were then transmitted over thousands of miles to the Nazi forces at the front, using Morse code. The Enigma Code was seemingly ‘uncrackable’, because you would have to go through more than almost 15 million, million, million possibilities to arrive at the correctly deciphered code! How did they actually crack the Enigma Code, which was considered one of the most ironclad, impossible-to-crack codes in history?
Turing identified a weak spot in the Nazi encrypted messages! Suppose you wanted to encrypt a message that contained a total of 3 words. ‘MODEST IS AWESOME’, the encrypted output might have looked something like ‘ZKSQER PO QAPEKRQ’, or something entirely different. Every letter was encrypted as a letter that was different than itself. Never once did it happen that a letter was encrypted as itself. When you type ‘S’, it could be encrypted as any letter out of the 26 letters, but not S. Therefore, an ‘S’ would never be encrypted as an ‘S’. Now, read the encryption of ‘MODEST IS AWESOME’ again and see if that holds true. This was the single flaw in the Enigma code. All Turing needed was a word (or a group of words) that he was positive the Germans would use in each of their Enigma-encrypted messages. What was that word, or rather, that phrase? ‘Heil Hitler’: Germans put the phrase ‘Heil Hitler’ at the end of every encrypted message. This seemingly small mistake eventually contributed to their ultimate defeat.