The Eternal Alone Leads the One Who Behaves Humbly
It is written, “The L-RD alone did lead him, and there was no foreign god with Him” (Deuteronomy 32:12). The meaning of this verse is not clear, for if the Eternal alone directs Israel, it is obvious that there is no foreign god with Him. Why then the need to state this?
The Holy One, blessed be He, directs the Children of Israel and guards them so that they recognize Him, but only when they humble themselves before Him and remove the pride that dwells in their hearts. And the more someone isolates himself to examine his behavior, the more he merits knowing G-d. This is the meaning of “and there was no foreign god with Him.” The word neichar (“foreign”) has the same numerical value as ra (“evil”). In fact there is nothing as bad as pride, and if a man in his pretentiousness dreams of being compared to G-d, then G-d says, “He and I cannot live together in this world” (Arachin 15b), for such a man is called evil. When does G-d direct and lead a man? When that man has no foreign god with him, meaning that far from being imbued with pride, he on the contrary abases himself before G-d, and that is the meaning of “The L-RD alone did lead him.” The word ra (“evil”) has the same Gematria ketanah as geieh (“pride”), and in the absence of all arrogance, G-d leads him.
Who do we have who is greater than Moses, of whom it is said, “Moses came and spoke all the words of this song in the ears of the people” (Deuteronomy 32:44)? How did he manage to speak in private to tens of thousands of men, women, and children? This shows us his greatness, his humility, and his self-effacement before all Israel, to the point that his words were actually heard by all of them, words that descended into the heart of each of them individually. They therefore understood what each must work on and how each must serve G-d. Moreover, they had the impression that Moses personally spoke to every one of them.
Moses had arrived at this extraordinary level because he knew that pride is appropriate only for the Eternal. Now Moses was the most humble of all the men on the earth (Numbers 12:3), and his modesty had already allowed him to attain the level necessary to graze the flock that was Israel, even while he was shepherding the flock of Jethro his father-in-law in the desert (Exodus 3:1). From that point on, he never stopped elevating himself, to the extent that he arrived at humbling himself before all men made in the image of G-d. Thus in him was fulfilled the verse that states, “For the L-RD’s portion is His people. Jacob is the lot of His inheritance” (Deuteronomy 32:9), for the one who is part of G-d – who is attached to and abases himself before Him – he alone can be called “the lot of His inheritance.” He is attracted by G-d and attaches himself to Him, and G-d is his heritage and his portion. This is our role in the world: To humbly stand as servants before G-d.
In regards to this, our Sages have said, “Whoever becomes proud, it is as if he committed idolatry” (Pesikta Zutah Beha’alotcha 12:2). A man will do this in order to allow himself to sin, as it is said, “Israel only gives itself over to idolatry in order to allow itself to sin” (Sanhedrin 63b). At the time of the incident of the golden calf, it is written, “and they got up to revel” (Exodus 32:6), and Rashi explains in the name of the Sages that this refers to forbidden relations (Tanhuma Tisa 20). It follows, therefore, that if a man is imperfect in the area of morals, as well as in the areas of idolatry, purity of the eyes, or wicked thoughts (or even acts), all this stems from the pride that is within him. Even if he studies, all his learning is aimed at feeling superior to others, an attitude that leads to the grave sin of forbidden relations or other serious prohibitions. At that moment, given that pride is a useless thing, he is punished measure for measure by useless spiritual blemishes. In the same way, someone who gives a course to students and derives pride from it falls into serious sin. This is because he only aims to show off at the expense of others, which engenders the sin, and he imagines that the Torah belongs to him and that he receives nothing from G-d.
As for Moses, he was self-effacing before everyone and the most humble of men on the earth. This means that he felt himself to be more insignificant than even the earth that is tread on by foot, and this is what earned him everything he merited. Everyone should follow his example, and if one wants to uproot one’s sins (which originate from animal matter), one must devote oneself to the holy Torah with humility and self-effacement. This leads to an awareness of G-d and to the bowing down before His glory. In this way a person contributes to the perpetuation of Creation, through humility and the love of others, and at that moment the Eternal will guide and conduct him on the right path.
In reflecting upon this, we note just to what point we are insignificant. For if the holy Patriarchs deserved that which we have not deserved, it is because their entire yearning was to arrive at an understanding of the Creator. Through self-effacement and personal effort, they arrived at the point where their kidneys became like two vessels overflowing with Torah (Bereshith Rabba 61), for they were entirely directed towards the search for truth. Consequently, only the holy Torah remains for us, accompanied by real introspection, and it is only with such that we will arrive at ever-higher levels of understanding. For the Torah is not enough; one must also fight against the evil inclination. This is the meaning of heshbon nefesh (introspection), whose initials make up the Hebrew word nah (the root of which means “rest”, “serenity”). In fact, one can only undertake a proper introspection when one is calm and tranquil. This is the sense of King David’s exclamation, “When I behold Your heavens, the work of Your fingers” (Psalms 8:4): Is it only when calm and pensive that one comes to an awareness of G-d and can say “How abundant are Your works, O L-RD!” (Psalms 104:24).
With regards to this, how many times does a person witness the marvels of nature, yet by force of habit it does not enter his mind to praise and exalt G-d? The remedy for this is to go to the mountains and to contemplate nature, and to focus all one’s attention on admiring the marvels of Creation. This is what constitutes “When I behold,” meaning that it is to observe nature without stop and thus to understand Who created it all, as did Abraham, who at first did not discern the Holy One, blessed be He, but finally became aware of Him.
The prophet Jeremiah said, “Let us search and examine our ways and return to the L-RD” (Lamentations 3:40). This alludes to the fact that it is when a man rests from all his work of the entire year that he has the time to examine himself and see if he is walking in the right path. The meaning of “examine our ways” is that in moments of tranquility, one must undertake a deep introspective examination of all that one has done and to repair that which needs repairing. In this way, one returns to the Eternal with all one’s heart and all one’s soul, and this allows one to begin the month of Elul.
One must also understand that Shabbat, when it is properly valued, is a day in which one should reflect upon one’s actions during the previous week and to try to find a way to correct one’s faults. The word Shabbat has the same root as the word Teshuvah, and its letters form the initials of the expression Shabbat Bo Tashuv (“repent on Shabbat”). This recalls the verse that states, “You reduce [tasheiv, which has the same letters as Shabbat] man to pulp” (Psalms 90:3), for on Shabbat it is easy to return to G-d. He then guides us, particularly on Shabbat, a day that is a foretaste of the world to come. Moreover, concerning Torah study, the book Ben Ish Hai states that even the person who does not have the opportunity to study during the week should at least do so on Shabbat, as the Sages have said: “That he makes his Shabbat into a entire day of Torah” (Tanna D’vei Eliyahu Rabba 1). In fact, the holiness of Shabbat can have a positive influence on all the days of the week, for a man who absorbs this atmosphere of purity can greatly elevate himself.
Since we have arrived to this point, we can now better understand the following expression in the Morning Prayer: “[He] has set us apart from those who go astray, and has given us the Torah of truth and implanted within us eternal life” as well as the blessing on the Torah: “Who has chosen us from among all peoples and given us His Torah.” This means that all the differences between a Jew and a non-Jew reside in the holy Torah, which directs the Jew towards eternal life. The Jew carries in him, engraved on his heart, the realization that he must take advantage of every moment in this world for Torah and mitzvot in order to merit life in the world to come. With every mitzvah that he performs, he senses that his entire life depends on it. He even uses moments of relaxation to reflect on his behavior, which is not the case with the non-Jew, for whom the entire universe begins and ends with this world and who dreams of nothing other than to spend one moment to the next rejoicing over what he can, and whose entire life is thus summed up by a profound weariness. This attitude is reflected in the verse that states, “they … pursued futility and became futile” (Jeremiah 2:5). This is the meaning of “the L-RD alone leads them,” namely that He leads them when they occupy themselves with Torah, as opposed to idolaters.
Above all, a man must understand that the more the moment is appropriate, the more the evil inclination searches to bother him and make him transgress. One example of this principle is the Mincha prayer, of which it is stated, “And it was [vayehi] at the time of the afternoon-offering [mincha]” (I Kings 18:36). Now we know that the expression vayehi is always used when speaking of a tragedy (Megillah 10b). For example, when we are in the middle of doing something that is potentially very profitable and the time for Mincha arrives, it requires much courage to close one’s store. Moreover, it requires strength to push oneself to attend Mincha services if one is tired and would rather rest. The word mincha means a gift, a present that one offers to the Holy One, blessed be He. A person merits a great spiritual uplifting when he takes it upon himself to perform Mincha at a difficult time. This is why the Sages have said, “Eliyahu was only answered during Mincha” (Berachot 6b).
In addition, during the Mincha prayer service of Yom Kippur, a person is hunger and tired, and it is difficult to concentrate on prayer. Yet if despite everything a person conquers his fatigue and offers his mincha, his gift, to the Eternal, it is as if he offered his life to G-d. It is similar to Abraham, who went to sacrifice his son Isaac, and who said with every gesture that he made on the ram: “May all this be considered as if I did it to my son Isaac” (Tanhuma Shelach 14). In offering one’s soul to G-d, one merits a great spiritual elevation, and so “the L-RD alone leads him.” He guides him in the way of good life, all this occurring when one is self-effacing before Him and studies the holy Torah with humility, a sense of lowliness, and self-effacement.