Throughout the month of Elul, the month preceding Rosh Hashanah, I will be sharing daily reflections to help each of us prepare for the upcoming High Holy Day Season. I hope these thoughts inspire each of us to make time, find the energy and initiate some passion as we reflect and examine this past year, in preparation for the year to come.
This summer, while on faculty at the URJ Crane Lake Camp, one of the middot, or Jewish virtues that we studied with our campers was that of humility, or anavah. Teaching humility to children was no easy task. So many questions were asked. How does one explain humility? Can one be humble and still have self-esteem? Is humility a good thing? Can one be humble and have humility without appearing weak and wimpy?
All good questions as we prepared to teach these children. And yet, the questions are really no different when we confront the idea of humility as adults as well. What does it mean to have humility and why is it a Jewish virtue? How might I balance humility with joy or happiness? Can I find room in my daily way of life to have humility and not lose my voice or my vision?
I believe we can and should all bring a balance of humility to our lives. I think the mere fact that we are all created b’tzelem Elohim, in God’s image, should bring us a sense of humility. If we know that God, however we might picture God, has made mistakes and has fixed things, then should we not think the same is necessary for ourselves?
I like and appreciate the dictionary definition of humility, which states that it is a modest or low view of one’s own importance. This simply explains to all that we should never overstate our significance, for there will always be someone who is smarter, someone who is more talented, someone who can do the work better. This does not negate our desire to try to do things to the best of our capability. Quite the opposite. It should motivate us to do things to the best of our ability, but realizing we should not boast or be so full of ourselves so as to think we are better than all the rest.
Though I enjoy that definition, I do not like the synonyms often used for humility. They often include meekness, unassertiveness, lack of pride and submissiveness. I don’t believe when we consider humility a Jewish virtue that we understand in such a manner.
Humility is caring enough for other human beings
to respect each individual’s place in the world, regardless of our own.
Humility is knowing when to help a friend
Without them ever hearing our voice.
Humility is respecting the teacher
Even if we think we can do it better.
May this year allow for some humility in our actions.
May this year allow for some humility in our words.
Now let the sound of the shofar be heard;
And let our souls be awakened!
Rabbi Debbie Bravo