17 Sivan 5779 / Thursday, June 20, 2019 | Torah Reading: Shelach Lecho
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The Ladder of Humility    

The Ladder of Humility

Humility enables a person to become a worthy receptacle for Divine light. The more a person is humble, the closer he attains proximity to Hashem, the ultimate good...


Translated by Rabbi Lazer Brody

One of our most important jobs all year long, and especially when preparing for Rosh Hashana, is to climb the ladder of humility. There are four main rungs, as follows:
The First Rung: Humility toward Hashem
Arrogance is the cause of all kinds of emotional disorders. This stems from man's first sin, feeling that he could be like G-d. The root of arrogance entered his heart, and along with, an array of lusts, bodily appetites and negative emotions such as anger and jealousy. Worst of all, the arrogance led to denial of Hashem and heresy. Once we understand the arrogance is the root of emotional ills, we realize that humility is the cure, the root of emotional well-being. The first step of humility as we mentioned is being humble toward Hashem, remembering that we are a creation and not the Creator and that all our powers and abilities come from Him only.
A person must daily remind himself of the Torah passage, "And you shall remember Hashem, your G-d, for He has given you the strength to succeed" (Deuteronomy 8:18). We also say three times daily in the Aleinu prayer, "You shall know this day and take to your heart that Hashem is G-d in the heavens above and on the earth beneath, there is no other" (ibid 4:39). These passages are meant as reminders that there is no one but Hashem, that the only power is a person really has is prayer. One must turn to Hashem for everything. This level of humility is accessible for most people, for it's relatively easy to understand how small we are in relation to the Creator, even in relation to other creations greater than us such as the angels, the galaxies, and the might of nature. Therefore, the first rung of humility is knowing our nothingness and humility in relation to Hashem. Once we truly nullify our egos and submit to Hashem, we are much more capable of doing His will with joy.
The Second Rung: Humility towards Those Greater than Us
The second rung of the humility ladder is our willingness and readiness to put our ego aside in the presence of those greater than us. This necessitates that we acknowledge the presence of flesh-and-blood creations who know more than we do and who are more righteous than we are. Acknowledging, whether vocally or in our minds, is not enough; we must adapt and accept their opinions even when they are opposite of our own. This is the first step of humility that brings a person to emotional health. Rebbe Nachman says that if the fool would listen to the wise man, he would be cured instantly.
For most individuals, submissiveness to a greater individual is a tremendous trial. People don't easily surrender their opinions or outlook even when greater and wiser individuals think differently. Sometimes a person knows that unless he casts his own opinions aside and takes the advice of a wiser individual, he won't be able to benefit from the wiser individual's advice and help, and in spite of it all, he stays stubbornly entrenched in his own views. Therefore, a person must first acknowledge the truth that there are individuals greater and wiser than him, to whom he must submit himself. This once again is the second rung of humility that brings a person to emotional health.
At this stage, a person must be truthful with himself. He must deflate his ego and realize that he can't succeed on his own and that he needs the advice and guidance of those greater than him. This may vary from area to area. A brain surgeon needs his mechanic's advice regarding the smooth running of his automobile. Yet, when it comes to health of the brain, the mechanic must totally rely on the neurologist. In like manner, we should humble ourselves before those who know better than we do, for this is basic humility.
A person shouldn't think that if he accepts the yoke of the righteous spiritual leaders from previous generations, who were obviously greater than he is, then he has attained this first stage of humility. The test of humility is nullifying his ego toward his contemporaries, for the Gemara tells us (tractate Rosh Hashana 25b) that Yiftah in his generation is just like Samuel the Prophet in his generation, so that Yiftah's contemporaries can't say that Yiftah is not as wise and holy as Samuel, and therefore they will not follow him. Rebbe Nachman therefore concludes that it's crucial for a person to connect and submit himself to the righteous man of the generation, for this is a giant step toward attaining genuine humility. The Jewish People's troubles throughout the generations stemmed from their refusal to listen to the prophets and spiritual leaders. Why? They failed to recognize their nothingness in regard to Hashem. In their arrogance, they refused to listen to the prophets as well, which ultimately led to national calamity.
The Third Rung: Humility toward One's Peers
A person who has already started listening to those greater than him now opens the door to being able to listen to his peers, those on his own intellectual and spiritual level. Every single person has a special quality, a particular area where he or she is outstanding. When a person is humble and willing to listen to others, he derives benefit from the lessons he is capable of learning from each person's special quality, that area where our fellow human knows more than we do. But, if a person is arrogant, he is unwilling to listen to others, for he thinks he knows everything. Ultimately, the arrogant person is an ignorant person, for he learns from no one.
Humble people are good listeners. Good listeners are good learners. As such, humble people learn much. Not only that, but everyone likes them.
Even if a humble person has a disagreement with someone, he knows that there are two sides to every story, so he considers the side of the other person. At this level of humility, he is truly capable of appreciating other people and their opinions. Without such humility, one cannot possibly fulfill the Torah's commandment that requires us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. This is an "unnatural" commandment, for human nature gravitates toward selfishness. But, our whole mission on earth is to refine human nature and polish our character with the traits that are most conducive to serving Hashem, the most important of which is humility.
The Fourth Rung: Humility toward Those on a Lower Level than Us
Once the quality of humility begins to penetrate a person's soul and become part of his character, he is better able to observe the environment around him. In particular, he can now readily see other people's virtues and his own shortcomings. The fact that he sees the good in others, and particularly the unique special quality of each person, he can now listen to those who are on a lower intellectual and spiritual level than he is. Since he is not preoccupied with correcting the world and identifying other people's faults, he can now learn from others, even if they are seemingly on a lower level. This level, the fourth rung of humility, enabled our sages to testify that they were able to learn very much from their pupils and those on a lower level than them. And, when a person sees his own shortcomings and nothingness, he anyway regards other people as being on a higher level than he is. Such humility enables a person to become a worthy receptacle for Divine light. The more a person is humble, the closer he gets to Hashem; proximity to Hashem is the ultimate good that we all seek. May you be inscribed from a wonderful New Year!

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