By Boruch Merkur
One time, the Humble One asked an older fellow if he would like his back
scratched. Naturally, the old man politely declined the offer. But the new
student was quick to interject, "I could really use a good back-scratch… That
is, if it is not beneath your dignity."
There are the humble and then there are the humble. There are
those who are even humble in their own minds - though perhaps in nobody else’s.
And some even become famous for their humility...
The city of Minsk attracted many Torah scholars, each one
greater than the next. And everyone knew each other’s standing. If, for example,
a student, a scholar-in-the-making, stood first in his class, it was no secret;
he was granted many privileges and was the envy of his peers.
In tandem with this drive for academic success, there was an
equal force pulling in almost the opposite direction. The Torah demands a Jew to
be G-d-fearing. Therefore, in order to promote the fear of Heaven, it is
necessary to prevent the ego from getting in the way. It is necessary for there
to be a powerful movement towards humility. So, on the one hand, whilst
succeeding in one’s studies would assure a position of honor in the community
and in the Torah world at large, it was crucial for the scholar to insure that
his head did not swell up with pride. His failure to do so, would be an
admittance that even his Torah learning was not up to par, for it had not yet
permeated his entire being, infusing him with the fear of Heaven.
One of the particularly illustrious rabbis of Minsk was
famous throughout all of Europe for being exceptionally humble, so much so, that
he became known as the Humble One of Minsk. How did he get such a reputation? He
would volunteer to do even the most menial and lowly chores. Indeed, it was even
said of the Humble One, that he would offer to scratch your back in the local
Though it is needless to say that there were few who would
ever take him up on his offer. After all, who would dare?! He’s the Humble One
of Minsk, scholar extraordinaire, extremely G-d-fearing and righteous to the
bone! But every so often, he would volunteer his services just at the moment
when your back was particularly itchy, and you just couldn’t resist indulging in
his fine proposal. But this was, of course, a rare and desperate occasion. In
fact, most people, out of respect for the privacy of the Humble One, would
actually vacate the bathhouse premises when they realized that he was there.
Once, a new student came to the city of Minsk who was sharp
in his studies, but at the same time he was young and wild, still rough around
the edges. He would make a point of staying in the bathhouse when the Humble One
One time, the Humble One asked an older fellow if he would
like his back scratched. Naturally, the old man politely declined the offer. But
the new student was quick to interject, "I could really use a good back-scratch…
That is, if it is not beneath your dignity."
A gasp of disbelief reverberated through the bathhouse. Those
hurrying out to leave the Humble One to his privacy froze in their tracks at the
young man’s remark. And they were equally amazed when they saw that the Humble
One actually acquiesced!
"A little to the left, please," the student added, "and just
a bit lower, if you would be so kind..."
A crowd began to gather.
"Now if you wouldn’t mind scratching just a little bit
By now the Humble One’s patience was thoroughly spent. His
lips quivered, his nostrils flared. He could no longer tolerate this irksome
young man. He swiveled the student around to face him and roared: "Such
audacity, such chutzpa! And coming from such a little shmendrik!
Do you know who I am? Do you have any idea of who I am?! Show some respect! I am
the Humble One of Minsk!"
* * *
Given what we know about Moshe Rabbeinu, the Torah reading
this week tells us something most wondrous. What do we know about Moshe? Here’s
just a fragment of his resume: He redeemed the Jewish people from enslavement in
the Land of Egypt. He received the Torah from G-d Alm-ghty at Mount Sinai and
managed to develop a fantastic rapport with Him - indeed, Moshe could speak with
G-d any time he desired. Also, G-d Himself granted Moshe His recommendation, as
He testified: "In all of My house [Moshe] is trusted." And the Torah records
that "there never rose another in Israel like Moshe." In short, Moshe reached
the most sublime echelon of human achievement. He was truly self-actualized.
And in this week’s parsha, the Torah attests to
another aspect of the greatness of Moshe. Despite all of his accomplishments and
virtues, we are told that "Moshe was extremely humble, more so than any man on
the face of the earth."
The greatest man that ever lived and at the same time the
most humble! How was Moshe capable of being so humble given his greatness?!
Simply speaking, humility is not accomplished by denying your
virtues. Nor is it achieved by pretending to be lowly, but actually believing
that you are great (like the Humble One of Minsk). Rather, true humility is only
possible by acknowledging that you have talents and abilities yet at the same
time believing that if they were given to any other person "on the face of the
earth," that person would surely accomplish just as much, if not more.
(Based on Likkutei Sichos 13.)
The main cause of Moshe’s unprecedented humility was a result
of being shown a vision of the generation that would witness the coming of
Moshiach, our generation. Notwithstanding the fact that (relative to previous
generations) we are very limited in terms of our sensitivity to spirituality and
G-dliness, nevertheless we hold strong to Torah and mitzvos to the point
of self-sacrifice. Seeing this phenomena, Moshe, with all of his unique gifts
and abilities, became "extremely humble, more so than any man on the face of the
(Based on Seifer Maamarim 5710)
By Rabbi Chaim Miller
The Rabbi launched a full-fledged attack at his innocent congregant,
threatening him that if he refused to grow even the shortest of beards, it
demonstrated that all his other efforts in Judaism were insincere.
Once, in a private audience with the Rebbe, a Lubavitch
representative was proudly recounting his successful projects in the
dissemination of Judaism, when all of a sudden the Rebbe posed a peculiar
question: "Does Mr. X in your community have a beard?"
"No," replied the representative.
"I want you to encourage him to grow one," said the Rebbe,
"but on no account should he be told that the request has come from me."
After many attempts, Mr. X was still reluctant to grow any
sort of beard. His Rabbi quoted forceful arguments from Jewish law and from the
secrets of the kabbala, and he even proved from the latest magazines that
beards were coming back into fashion - but all to no avail. As time passed, the
issue became more contentious and was verging on a minor rift, but what was the
poor Rabbi to do to fulfill the wishes of the Rebbe?
In a last resort, the Rabbi launched a full-fledged attack at
his innocent congregant, threatening him that if he refused to grow even the
shortest of beards, it demonstrated that all his other efforts in Judaism were
insincere and self-oriented. But - as is human nature - the man became extremely
infuriated and retaliated: "No, no! I will never grow a beard!"
The temptation was overwhelming - without pausing for
thought, the Rabbi opened his mouth, "Well, actually..."
In his next private audience with the Rebbe, the Rebbe
inquired, "has Mr. X yet grown a beard?"
"Oh yes, announced the representative proudly, "I am pleased
to say he now has a full beard."
"Did you mention to him that the request came from me?"
"I’m afraid I had no choice, he was totally adamant."
"Acch!" the Rebbe waved his hand dismissively.
"But Rebbe," he continued in defense, "if I would not have
told him it was your personal wish, he would never have grown a beard. Surely,
it is preferable that he now has a full beard and is fulfilling G-d’s command?"
The Rebbe replied, "I wanted that it should be his
beard. Now, it is my beard."
* * *
Some people think that solving the world’s ills is best left
to G-d. Upon hearing that Judaism promises a true and final Redemption which
exceeds any event ever witnessed, a veritable Utopia in an instant, the natural
response may well be: "I’ll believe it when I see it."
But, if a person’s child was ill, G-d forbid, he would cry
out to the Alm-ghty that this is a gross injustice. He would implore that,
although G-d’s ways are not understood by man, nevertheless enough is enough!
When a person cries for Redemption, for Moshiach, he is
basically saying that he cares that people are starving, that there is war, and
that every part of society is filled with corruption. He is willing to look past
the petty pursuit of his personal comfort, and yearn to see some clear evidence
Of course, G-d could instantly bring the Redemption without
our efforts - I’m certain that the Rebbe can, too - but if it’s not our work, if
it is not our "beard," then all the good and beauty of the Redemption would not
have come from inside. Rather, it would have been imposed upon us - and that is
That’s why one single Jew, with one honest cry to G-d, can
bring the Redemption, because then humanity has at least one ambassador to show
that we are sincere.