Rabbi David Walk, Education Director

Congregation Agudath Sholom | 301 Strawberry Hill Ave | Stamford, CT 06902 (203)-358-2200 www.agudathsholom.org

Thursday, May 31, 2018

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Walk Article



Rabbi David Walk 


Perhaps Yogi said it best, 'It ain't the heat. It's the humility.' That profoundest of pundits, Lawrence Peter 'Yogi' Berra (1925-2015), definitely hit a homerun with this quote. He's famous for so many bon mots. Who can forget 'When you come to a fork in the road, take it,' or 'Nobody goes there anymore; it's too crowded,' and my favorite, 'Baseball is 90% mental and the other half is physical.'? But here Yogi has summed up the essence of leadership even better than his other quote, 'Even Napoleon had his Watergate.' In spite of the fact that Mr. Berra was talking about the weather, his comment beautifully describes the dilemma of leadership. The greatest danger to a leader isn't the 'heat' they must take from the public, the press and other politicians, but is the threat to maintaining their humility. To better understand this predicament in which many leaders find themselves, we must look at this week's Torah reading. 

Leadership and its travails is the central theme of this week's parsha. Moshe finds himself in a maelstrom of difficulties. He encounters problems from the eiruv rav (non-Jewish camp followers), the nation at large, his acolyte Yehoshua and even his siblings. It's during this last impasse that we are informed of Moshe's greatest quality: And the man Moshe was the most anav (humble) human being upon the face of the earth (Bamidbar 12:4). To a certain extent, we already knew this fact. When God first approaches Moshe to lead the Jews out of Egypt back in chapters 3 & 4 of Shmot, he demurs repeatedly. Again in our parshaYehoshua is concerned that there are leaders (Eldad and Meidad, the perfect names for anyone with twin males) speaking prophecies in the midst of the camp. Moshe's response is perfection for the humble leader, 'Are you zealous for my sake? If only all the Lord's people were prophets, that the Lord would bestow His spirit upon them (Bamidbar 11:29).' 

Great leaders want the best for their people. They see their role as facilitator for the needs of the people. It's not about them; it's about the people they lead. So, if the people could do better without them, they step aside. That's the anivut or humility ascribed to Moshe. He only took on the role of supreme leader because God demanded it, and he will gladly and gratefully relinquish it to the next generationAnivut is not William Tecumseh Sherman (1820-1891) telling the Republican Party, 'If nominated I will not run, if elected I will not serve.' Instead, it means that one will do the job until a better candidate comes along. Remember our Sages have advised, 'In a situation where there is no one, make every effort to be the one (Avot 2:4).'  

This trait is not to be confused with my favorite verse in the entire Tanach:  O, humanity, what is good? And what does God seek from you? But to act justly, love kindness and walk hatznea (modestly) with your God (Micha 6:8). What a coincidence that it just happens to appear in my bar mitzva haftorah, but I digress. What's the difference between anivut (humility) and tziniut (modesty)? They can easily be confused, and in many modern contexts are used interchangeablyHowever, in their essence there is a profound difference. 

 Anivut is the strength of character to observe oneself objectively. Humility has been associated with many prosocial behavior patterns, most notably generosity and helpfulness. You shouldn't confuse humility with low self-esteem. In one case, the person continually puts themselves down, doubting their worth or ability, but in the other it allows a sharing with others of responsibility and credit. The truly humble person is happy for the success of others. The true anav doesn't need the microphone, camera or spotlight all the time. A person with anivut can dispassionately decide who can best do a job or fulfill a role. Therefore, we can see why Moshe's humility also makes him the greatest leader of all time. Rev. Rick Warren once expressed the idea beautifully, 'Humility is not thinking less of yourself; it's thinking of yourself less.' 

On the other hand, tzniut is not about who does the job, but how the job is done. The true tzanua goes about life performing tasks quietly and unobtrusively. This kind of modesty comes from an inner strength which doesn't require constant approval. Think about infants who must inform their parents of everything they do or do do. That's important in the still forming personality. But at some point, we must move on from that neediness. I believe strongly that the people who pray the best are those whom we never noticed davening. The need to be noticed contrasts strongly with tzniut. I don't believe that modesty is as important to great leadership as humility, but someone who hogs credit and attention probably won't be a great leader. 

Moshe Rabbeinu displayed both traits. We see his willingness to share power and responsibility in his interactions with the newly appointed elders, Yehoshuahis father in law Yitro and his siblings. His tzniut isn't as apparent in this parsha, but we saw ample examples of it in Shmot, when he carried out his conversations with God as unobtrusively as possible. No showboating was allowed. This contrasts with many other prophets (both Jewish and pagan) who made a big display of their interactions with God. 

Famed British psychologist, Dr. Russell Razzaque, described the outstanding leadership of Abraham Lincoln, who was famous for sharing power and credit with others, by explaining 'that any leader's first and greatest victory is always that over his (I'll add 'or her') own ego.' Our parsha informs us that Moshe Rabbeinu got there first. Maybe we can get there too and then remember to teach our fabulously gifted progeny that 'it's the humility'.