Our three-year old Nursery students, along with their older counterparts, are coming home this Shabbos well aware of `Little Har Sinai’. The prerequisite of humility for Kabbolas HaTorah (acceptance of the Torah) is a universally recognized Jewish value. In fact, the Kli Yakar comments on the Pasuk’s (Shemos 19:2) switching from plural to a singular description of the Jewish People’s encampment around Har Sinai – …Vayeechun Shom Yisrael Neged HaHar, was to point out that they made peace with each other upon seeing and recognizing the lowly stature of Har Sinai relative to other mountains. This was because they realized that Hashem desires humility and submission – otherwise the greatest event in human history would have been staged in a more grandiose setting. By recognizing the value of humility, they were able to make peace with each other, and put aside their quarrels and envy, which stem from a self-centered desire for honor and power.
How do we teach humility to our children? Isn’t humility a contradiction to self-esteem? These are excellent questions. Inculcating the value of being submissive when appropriate, and being assertive when called for, lies at the center of healthy human social development. Moshe Rabbeinu was the humblest person who ever lived, yet this same humble man acted decisively, boldly and firmly when he shattered the tablets in full view of his rebellious followers at the incident of the Golden Calf, and subsequently rallied and saved the rest of Klal Yisroel at a moment of great danger.
Teaching humility to our children is first and foremost accomplished through proper role modeling. How do we refer to others at our dinner table, how do we greet strangers, especially Meshulachim at the door, how much deference do we show to our Rabbonim, do we speak respectfully about authority figures in our, and especially our children’s lives? Do we appropriately deflect Kovod that comes our way? Do we verbalize our appreciation to Hashem for the good things in our lives, and do we accept and submit when things don’t go the way we hope for?
Won’t greater humility lessen our children’s self-esteem? Nothing could be further from the truth. Humility is not self-denigration and feeling lowly. True humility is recognizing one’s own self-worth, and valuing one’s talents and abilities, together with a realization that all of one’s attributes are a gift from Hashem, and that a person owes every attribute and accomplishment to Hashem. Only a person who is self-confident and self-assured can integrate such a worldview without feeling diminished. We are great, because Hashem has endowed us with greatness – therefore we humbly submit to His will and to the realization that we can take credit only for our efforts in spiritual growth – everything else we have is a gift from Hashem.
A truly humble person is a happy person, satisfied with his lot in life who harnesses Hashem’s gifts to reach greater spiritual heights. Leading our children on such a path is the key to their success in life and to an enduring peace and love among all of Klal Yisroel and indeed, mankind.
Have an uplifting Shabbos,
Rabbi Kalman Baumann