Moses faces the most serious challenge to his leadership in his entire career this week. It comes from a man named Korah who was himself part of the leadership elite of the Israelites and a member of Moses’s own tribe. Korah accuses Moses of the sin of acting as if he is holier than (read – “more important than”) everyone else, while at the same time claiming that all of Israel is “a kingdom of priests.”
One of the most remarkable aspects of this rebellion was that it cuts to the heart of what is undoubtedly the single most important personality trait that Jewish tradition ascribed to Moses, namely his humility. In fact, the rabbis of the Talmud remind us that it is written in the Torah itself that Moses was the humblest of men and that his personal humility was one of the main reasons God chose him to become the one who lead the Jewish people from slavery to freedom.
Each of us has the tendency to see the best in ourselves and the worst in others. Yet the rabbinic tradition holds up humility as one of the most important qualities that a leader can possess. Indeed, the Midrash teaches that each of us is to imagine that we have two divine notes in our pockets – one says, “The whole earth was created for my sake,” and the other saws, “I am but dust and ashes.” Throughout our lives when the situation calls for it, we are to reach into our pockets and pull out either one or the other of these notes and thereby remember both that we are created as unique beings with the spark of the divine in each of us, and that every other human being has his or her own unique divine spark as well.
The reason that tradition depicted Moses as one of the most humble of all leaders was to serve as a model for each of us in daily lives. If even Moses, the greatest of all leaders in Jewish history was able to remain humble and recognize that he was simply a vehicle for God’s work in the world, then we too have the obligation to see our hands as God’s hands, our eyes and God’s eyes and our hearts as God’s heart. Then we can find ways to encourage those around us to feel better about themselves and to discover their own inner spark of the divine as well.
How many times and ways do we elevate ourselves above others in order to feel superior in some way? How might you cultivate a sense of humility even as you celebrate your strengths and accomplishments in life this week?