Between Man and Fellow Man -
Moses' Humility

Character Trait: Humility "And Moses was the humblest man on earth"

Biblical Sources:

Moses's humility is apparent in the following passages:	Exodus 	3     		4     		33:12-17     		34:6-9	Numbers 11:23-29     		12:3     		16:15

Teacher Focus:

How is Moses's humility manifest in each of the above passages?
Try to define humility according to these sources.

In your opinion, does humility mean weakness?
Is it important that a leader be humble? How humble should he be?

In Depth:
Should contemporary leaders also be humble?

Sources from the Talmud and Midrash:

Our Rabbis taught:

Man was created just before the Sabbath (i.e., at the end of Creation). Why? So that if a man becomes proud, one can say to him. Even mosquitoes were created before you!

Sanhedrin 38a

"And the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush...."

Exodus 3:2

Not because you are the tallest of trees did the Holy One choose to manifest Himself within you, but rather because you are the lowliest of trees did the Holy one manifest Himself within you.

Shabbat 67a

Our Rabbis taught:

Let a man always [bend] like a reed and not be hard like a cedar: A reed grows in the water, its stem is flexible, and its roots are many. All the winds in the world cannot uproot it, for it sways back and forth with them. And when the winds cease to blow, the reed is still standing in its place.

A cedar does not grow in water, its trunk is not flexible, and its roots are few. All the winds in the world cannot uproot it, but when a southerly wind blows, it is immediately uprooted.

Ta'anit 20a In: "Moses," from Encylopedia Mikra'it, by S. A. Levinstam

Moses as Historical Figure

The descriptions of Moses in the Pentateuch are clearly of a mythological character. The question whether the historical Moses can be reconstructed by analysis of the biblical narratives is a continuing controversy among biblical scholars.... Jewish tradition attributes authorship of the first five books of the Bible to Moses.

According to the Torah, Moses was also the person to whom G-d's Law was given. Scholars do not recognize Moses as the author of most of the laws of the Torah, though many scholars do accept the tradition that attributes the Ten Commandments to Moses.

Another question over which there is disagreement concerns Moses' role in the history of the religion of Israel and in Israelite monotheism: According to the Torah, the forefathers (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) worshipped G-d as the one and only G-d of the universe. Accordingly, Moses' contribution to the religion of Israel was that of renewing the Covenant between G-d and His people.

Those scholars who do not accept this view are divided into several schools. Some learn from the accounts of G-d's revelation to Moses that Moses was the first Israelite to worship one G-d, and there are those who add to this assumption the theory that Moses received the belief in one G-d from Jethro, his father-in-law. Other scholars hold that the Children of Israel worshipped the G-d of Israel before Moses, though they did not worship Him as their only G-d. Accordingly, Moses is credited with putting and end to the worship of other gods.

Still other scholars believe that in Moses' time, the Israelites worshipped their G-d as the G-d of Israel only and recognized Him as G-d of the entire Creation only during the time of the classic prophets.

On the other hand, others attribute monotheism to Moses and believe that this monotheism was influenced by the same intellectual currents in Egypt that led to the revolution of the Pharaoh Akhnaton (1365-1355) BCE, who established the worship of the sun god as the one and only god of the universe. However, the presumption of Egyptian influence does not seem probable. Not only was the Egyptian religious revolution short-lived, but nowhere in the Bible (except in Psalms 19) is G-d compared to the sun.

The mythical character of the accounts of Moses narratives does not necessarily preclude their being based on history. Traditions concerning historical personalities can take on a mythical dressing. There is certainly no reason for negating the historicity of Moses on the basis of accounts of the Exodus -- such as Psalms 78 -- that omit any mention of him. One who wishes to praise what G-d has wrought is in no way obliged to mention G-d's agent.

Even the author of the Hagaddah, a much later work, permitted himself to omit Moses in his account of the Exodus, and attribute the entire event directly to G-d. If we see Israel's liberation from Egyptian servitude as a historical event, we cannot avoid the conclusion that there was a man who initiated and prepared this liberation and also led it.

The Pentateuchal sources are unanimous in holding that Moses was this man.

In: Moses by Ahad Ha'Am [Footnote 1]

...therefore, when I read the Passover Haggadah and about Moses son of Amram, hero of all heroes, who stands as a pillar of light on the threshold of history, hovering before me and elevating me to "the higher world," in no way do I share the doubts and questions with which the scholars of the nations harrass us with: whether Moses really lived, whether he lived and acted in in the manner accepted by our people, whether he really was the savior of Israel and giver of this Torah in the way that has been preserved for us, and other questions of this sort.

In my heart I dismiss all these questions with one short and simple and answer: This Moses, this hoary figure, whose reality and essence you are trying to clarify is not a matter for scholars such as you. We have a different Moses, our own Moses, the one whose form is writ large on the heart of our people from generation to generation and whose influence on our national life has not ceased from ancient times to now.

Moses' historic reality does not depend upon your learned treatises. For even if you managed to demonstrate beyond a shadow of a doubt that Moses the man never lived, or that he was not as he is depicted, this would not diminish by one iota the historical reality of the Moses ideal -- the one who led us not only forty years through the Sinai desert, but thousands of years, through every the desert we have crossed from the Exodus from Egypt to the present.

Footnote 1:
"Ahad HaAm" is the nom de plume of Asher Ginzburg (1856-1927), author, thinker, and one of the leaders of the Zionist movement. In his writings, Ahad HaAm promoted the idea of "Spiritual Zionism." By this he meant establishing a spiritual center in the land of Israel, one that would reinforce the sense of national unity of the Jewish people in the Diaspora. This center would develop a Jewish culture on the basis of the historical-traditional conceptions of the Jewish people. One of these ideas was the prophetic idea of "the rule of absolute justice," an idea of which Ahad HaAm also writes in his essay, "Moses."




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05 Jul 2005 / 28 Sivan 5765 0