How humility leads to joy


Anavut is the Hebrew word for humility. Torah describes Moses as anav meod, exceedingly humble. As Deuteronomy closes, God tells Moses to record his own death. Rabbi Meir tells us that Moses wrote those words in tears. A later source, the Tiferet Shlomo, explains that “Moses didn’t cry because he had to write of his own passing. He cried because he had to praise himself for all eternity as the servant of God. That is true humility.

Here’s what I am absolutely sure of: I don’t know. I don’t know if the smart people I choose to agree with know more than the smart people whose views I dislike.

Why was Man created last, just before Shabbat? “So that should he become arrogant, he’s reminded that even the mosquito was created before him” (Sanhedrin 38a).

When arrogance rules the day, civility is the casualty. The possibility that we could be wrong honors our imperfections and failures. It treats others with kindness and grace, even when we think they’re wrong.

The sukkah is a symbol of humility — simple, organic, vulnerable. In the sukkah, we are open to the elements and we are under the stars. As we look up, we see the ultimate reminder that we are a tiny speck in this vast universe.
As human beings, we think we’re powerful and brilliant. Sukkot reminds us that we are not the center of the universe. On Sukkot, we learn to depend on God — not ourselves, not other people.

Rav Kook taught: “Anavah is associated with spiritual perfection. When humility effects depression, it is defective; when it is genuine it inspires joy, courage and inner dignity.”

And that is why Sukkot is z’man simchateinu, the season of our rejoicing.

Rabbi Laurie Green is the spiritual leader of Congregation Bet Mishpachah in Washington.

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