IT'S ALL IN THE NAME
Looking around today's world, one finds clearly accentuated the highs and lows of modern society. Unprecedented technological advances are paralleled by a frightening regression in people's ability to get along with one another.
Looking around today's world, one finds clearly accentuated the highs and lows of modern society. Unprecedented technological advances are paralleled by a frightening regression in people's ability to get along with one another. While computers are getting faster and people are living longer, divorces, crime, and murders are reaching all-time highs. The source of these problems may be attributed to one detrimental character trait ga'avah, arrogance. Increasingly, people seem to be latching onto the idea that everything in the world, from money to power, was created for their own exclusive use. The fact that five billion other people are being denied these amenities is summed up as being "too bad for them." Ga'avah, warns the Rambam in his classic code of Jewish law, is a trait which one must stay away from at all cost. We can clearly see why. Without the understanding that regardless of one's position in life, one is no better than everyone else, the downfall of society is inevitable.
This week's Torah portion begins, "Vayikra el Moshe and He [G-d] called to Moses" (Leviticus 1:1). The Midrash comments that although Moses had ten different names each referring to a different attribute which he personified or to a commendable action which he had accomplished (for example, he was called Yered because he "brought down" the Torah from Mt. Sinai; Chever because he "joined" the Jewish people to their Father in heaven) Hashem chose to call him only by the name which Batyah, the daughter of Pharaoh, gave him when she pulled him out of the Nile: Moshe (Moses), meaning "drawn from the water." However, the Midrash does not explain any further. Why would Hashem choose the name "Moses" to refer to the Jewish leader over his other, seemingly more appropriate, appellations?
The Ksav Sofer, a great 19th century Torah scholar in Hungary, quotes the Talmud in Tractate Nedarim which states that Hashem only allows His presence to dwell on one who is strong, wealthy, wise, and humble. The Talmud further states that we derive all of these qualifications from Moses, who embodied them all. The Maharsha, a classic commentary on the aggada portions of the Talmud, asks the obvious question: Why should something external such as strength, wealth, or intelligence matter to G-d when deciding whom to elevate with the revelation of His presence? The Maharsha therefore concludes that without a doubt, the most important characteristic enumerated here is humility. Why, then, are the other traits listed as well?
The answer, continues the Ksav Sofer, lies in differentiating between two types of humility. The first type of humility is not acquired for oneself, but is rather thrust upon one's being by external circumstances either the environment in which one is raised, or extreme difficulties and suffering encountered in one's daily life. Humility is innate in both of these instances; a feeling of inadequacy in the presence of G-d comes much easier when one is downtrodden, since one invariably realizes that G-d is in complete control of his destiny. However, the second type of humility must be acquired and internalized by the individual. This form of humility is much more difficult to achieve, since one must come to the conclusion that although he has been given a superior lot in life, including wealth, strength, and ingenuity, he is in no way greater than anyone else unless he uses those blessings to serve Hashem to the best of his ability. Thus, the Talmud contends that despite the fact that one only needs the trait of humility to become a vessel worthy of receiving G-d's presence, it must be a higher form of humility, one developed in spite of the first three traits of wealth, strength, and wisdom which tend to pull a person towards arrogance.
We may now understand a comment made by the Midrash that Moses was a greater person in terms of humility than our forefathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The forefathers spent their entire lives in the midst of crisis, suffering, and oppression. Abraham was persecuted by Pharaoh and Nimrod, Isaac by Yishmael and the Philistines, and Jacob by Esau and Laban. Because of this, the forefathers obtained the first type of humility, one ingrained into their existence almost automatically without their having to work extensively on themselves to vanquish the sparks of haughtiness. Moses, conversely, was brought up in the splendor of Pharaoh's palace, in perpetual contact with the ruler of the most powerful nation of the era. Consequently, in order to achieve true humility, Moses needed to put forth a tremendous effort in conquering his instinctively supercilious nature. Yet we find that he was in fact successful, as he went out amongst the Jewish slaves and empathized with them to such a degree that when he saw an Egyptian beating a Jew, he knowingly gave up all his wealth and power as an Egyptian prince to help his brethren. G-d Himself testifies to Moses' remarkable achievement in conquering this great attribute, when the Torah declares, "The man Moses was exceedingly humble, more than any person on the face of the earth" (Numbers 12:3).
This, then, is why G-d chose to call him by the name Moses. In so doing, Hashem was intimating that out of Moses' many tremendous character traits, his humility was the most distinctive, for it had been attained despite the conditions he had been subject to when Batyah pulled him from the water.
We, too, in our day and age, must struggle to wipe out all vestiges of arrogance from our daily lives. We must realize that everyone is truly equal, regardless of what they have been given in life, provided that they use their assets to serve G-d properly. If we can succeed in this, we will soon see the effects manifest in our everyday lives, and gradually bring about the changes necessary to make our society a more peaceful and harmonized one.
This article has been an encore presentation from a previous volume of Torah from Dixie.
Joshua Gottlieb, a native Atlantan, is a senior at the Ner Israel High School in Baltimore.
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