The Greatness of Humility
Concerning the verse, “Now the man Moses was exceedingly humble, more than any person on the face of the earth” (Numbers 12:3), the commentators ask a well-known question: How is it possible that our teacher Moses did not refuse to record such a verse in the Torah, given that he was so humble? And even if that did not bother him, how could he write that he himself was the most humble of all men?
There is an opinion which states that the last eight verses of the Torah (concerning the death of Moses) were not written by Moses at G-d’s command, but by Joshua (Bava Batra 15a). Since those eight verses contain compliments about Moses, we may also question why Moses did not ask G-d that someone else should write the verse before us (Numbers 12:3) as well, rather than himself.
To explain, let us begin with the teaching of the Sages concerning the time that the Children of Israel committed the sin of the golden calf (Shemot Rabba 47:14). It was at that point that G-d wanted to exterminate them, yet Moses stood before Him with the following argument: “When You gave me the Torah, You said, ‘I am the L-RD your G-d … you shall have no other gods before Me’ [Exodus 20:2-3]. You spoke to me in the singular, not in the plural. Therefore why are You accusing the Children of Israel, who are many, since You said nothing to them? It was to me that You spoke, not to them.”
Since we are on the subject, we should explain why G-d referred to Himself by the word Anochi rather than Ani. By doing this, He wanted to teach the Children of Israel during this great event that if they wanted to accept the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven and the Torah, each of them should annul their ego (anochiut) and the pride embedded within them, for the Holy One, blessed be He, cannot dwell with one who is proud (Erchin 15b). All forms of arrogance are abominable to Him, and He alone is elevated, as Scripture relates (Psalms 93:1). The Torah can only be acquired by modesty (Perkei Avoth 6:5), and a person should direct all his pride to walking in G-d’s ways, as it is stated concerning King Jehoshaphat of Judah: “His heart was elevated in the ways of the L-RD” (II Chronicles 17:6).
I have seen in the book Sichot Mussar, by the Gaon Rabbi Chaim Shmulevitz Zatzal, that in the future nature as we know it will be abolished and become what it was like when the Torah was given. At that point, pride will no longer rule over any of the Children of Israel, for in leaving Egypt they had eliminated the 49 levels of impurity (Zohar Chadash Yitro 39a) and elevated themselves to the highest degree, to the point of abolishing all their evil instincts. They performed each mitzvah easily and naturally, as it is written: “This is my G-d, and I will magnify Him” (Exodus 15:2), meaning that we should be spotless before Him by performing mitzvot (Shabbat 133b), all this in humility. In addition, the Children of Israel annihilated all the evil that was within them, to the extent that the Sages said that when the Torah was given, the evil inclination was torn out of their hearts (Zohar I:52a, 56a, 63b). It was only with the sin of the golden calf that it returned to them.
This is the meaning of nature being abolished in the future: Nature alludes to wicked character traits, for the word hateva (“nature”) has the same numerical value as Elokim, the Name that represents G-d’s strict justice (Zohar III:30b). Thus in the future evil will be annulled, as well as strict justice, and all that will remain will be good, in that every good thing is pleasing to G-d. If a person will change his nature and commit evil deeds, the Shechinah will distance itself from him. Furthermore, when G-d created the world He fashioned it in such a way that it operates on the laws of nature, not by miracles. We know that modifications to this process by means of miracles (the splitting of the sea, etc.) were already known at the time of Creation, G-d having imposed on Creation the condition that everything should remain secret. However for the Tzaddikim, the laws of nature do not apply, since they can annul them (“the Tzaddik decrees, and the Holy One executes” – Moed Katan 16b). In fact, it is clear that they annul all evil and only do good, at which point the Holy One, blessed be He, also annuls nature for them.
What we have said up to now allows us to understand why it was Moses himself who wrote the phrase, “Now the man Moses was exceedingly humble.” When the sin of the golden calf occurred, Moses asked the Holy One, blessed be He, to forgive the Children of Israel, otherwise “Erase me now from Your book that You have written” (Exodus 32:32). That was said in the same spirit as, “And if this is how You deal with me, then kill me now” (Numbers 11:15), for it was only to Moses that G-d used the word Anochi, not to the Children of Israel. Therefore Moses implored G-d not to kill them, but rather to forgive them. The Holy One, blessed be He, responded with the statement, “I have forgiven according to your word” (Numbers 14:20), meaning that it was precisely “according to your word” – not because of their prayers – but because of what you said. In other words: “I spoke only to you, not to them, to the extent that they fell into this sin.” Thus when G-d told Moses to write, “Now the man Moses was exceedingly humble,” he certainly began by refusing to do so, and it is also possible that he asked the Holy One, blessed be He, that the person who would write the last words of the Torah should also write these ones.
On this point, however, the Holy One used a weighty argument against Moses: “Given that I annulled the decree concerning the sin of the golden calf because of your words – ‘It was to me that You spoke, not to them’ – know that I took the initiative when I said Anochi, not Ani, in order to teach that a person must annul his own pride. If you merited receiving the Torah, this means that you are truly humble and have reached the level whereby you have annulled all your negative character traits. Therefore no harm will come to you if you write, ‘Now the man Moses was exceedingly humble.’ ”
This was in the same spirit as the verse, “Remember the Torah of Moses My servant” (Malachi 3:22), for G-d told Moses, “Given that you diminished yourself, the Torah will carry your name” (Shabbat 89a). Humility was so deeply rooted in Moses that he could write concerning himself, “Now the man Moses was exceedingly humble.” Although the Holy One, blessed be He, knew that Moses had said what he did to protect the Children of Israel, this gave Him an argument to use against Moses.
Let us continue with the same subject. The Holy One, blessed be He, said to Moses, “How can you want that My words concern only you and not the Children of Israel, since the first word, Anochi – ‘Anochi [I] am the L-RD your G-d … Who brought you out of the land of Egypt’ [Exodus 20:2-3] concern all the Children of Israel who were slaves in Egypt? In addition, these words were not addressed to you, for you are part of the tribe of Levi, and it is known that the tribe of Levi was not reduced to slavery [Shemot Rabba 5:20]. It is you who wants that I should interpret these passages as concerning you in order to save the Children of Israel. Therefore write the passage, ‘Now the man Moses was exceedingly humble,’ for in reality you have attained great humility, and you are the intermediary between Myself and the Children of Israel to give them the Torah” (Yerushalmi Megillah 7).
However in reality, the evil inclination was extremely powerful before the giving of the Torah. We know that the holy Patriarchs fought against it in horrendous battles and by extraordinary means, for they suffered greatly because of it. Abraham fought against the Satan by his generosity, Isaac by severity and generosity, and Jacob primarily by the study of Torah, as it is written: “Grant truth to Jacob, kindness to Abraham” (Micah 7:20), and truth always designates the Torah (Tanna D’vei Eliyahu Zutah 21). Jacob also fought the evil inclination by his Divine service and generosity. Now we know that the deeds of the Patriarchs are signs for their children (see Sotah 34a), and that whoever is greater than his fellow has a greater evil inclination than him as well (Sukkah 52a). In addition, the Sages have said that it was by the merit of our father Jacob, whose face appears on the Throne of Glory, that Abraham was born and saved from Nimrod’s fiery furnace (Bereshith Rabba 63:2). Consequently, Jacob had a very difficult fight against the Satan. Next it was our teacher Moses who came and fought against the evil inclination. We therefore see that when the Children of Israel were in Egypt, the evil inclination was very powerful, but they were saved due to their solid character traits and the fact that they preserved their Jewish characteristics by not changing their names and other customs (Vayikra Rabba 32:5). They were also perfectly united, and as we know they gathered the sparks of holiness that had fallen from Adam (see Ohr HaChayim on Genesis 49:9). This is why the evil inclination was uprooted from their hearts at the giving of the Torah, and even though it later returned, it was not with the same intensity as before, for the Torah was already acting as an antidote and weapon against it (Kiddushin 30b).
If we devote ourselves to the Torah, and particularly to acquiring the same humility as Moses, we can easily conquer the evil inclination, and the power of the Satan will actually diminish more and more, until our redeemer arrives, soon and in our days. Amen.