What is Humility?
Abraham's Military Victory (Genesis 14:14-17)
How would you define humility? Do you associate humility with passivity and
meekness? Is humility something that you admire in other people, but would not
want to possess yourself?
Synopsis: Humility is the
recognition that anybody given my talents and opportunities in life could
accomplish as much as I have and perhaps even more than me. Acknowledgment
that our talents are G-d-given strengthens this perspective of humility.
of the Biblical narrative
Abraham's peaceful residence in the land
of Canaan is shattered with news of his nephew Lot's capture by four
powerful kings. Abraham rushes to his defense with a small band of 318
men. Miraculously, Abraham returns victorious from the battlefield. He is
the regional hero. The lecture explores Abraham's reaction to his newfound
In his victory over the Four Kings, Abraham's great moral character and
physical strength are revealed.
Rabbi Ovadiah Sforno
In the fourteenth year, Chedarlaomer
and the kings who were with him came and struck the Rephaim. .the Zuzim
. .the Emim . -This incident informs us of the mighty strength of
the Four Kings, which in turn reveals Abraham's great physical strength,
military prowess, and exceptional kindness toward his relative Lot in
engaging them in combat. Abraham sacrificed his safety in order to
battle the Four Kings and save Lot and his wealth.
Abraham returns triumphant from
battle. He is the regional hero. How does Abraham react to this newfound
(Breishit Rabbah to Genesis 14:17)
The king of Sodom went out to meet
him. . . . the Valley of Shaveh. The valley was called Shaveh
(Equal) because of a unanimous decision by the nations to erect a
platform and crown Abraham their king. They praised Abraham, saying:
"You are our king!, You are our prince! You are our god!" Abraham
responded to them: "The world is not lacking its King! The world is not
lacking its G-d!"
Synopsis of Rabbi Ovadiah
Sforno: The narrative of Abraham's battle with the Four Kings informs
of his physical (i.e.
battling 4 mighty kings), and
moral (i.e. risking his life
to uphold his commitment to Lot)
Synopsis of Midrash:
Abraham did not take any credit for his victory over the Four Kings.
Defining Humility: A
The Random House Dictionary defines
"Humility" as "feeling insignificant, inferior, or subservient". To many
people, humility is associated with unassertiveness or feeling inadequate
about oneself. While it is true that humility is the opposite of conceit,
it does not require an inferiority complex. Let us study the Torah view of
Defining Humility: A
"Moses was very humble, more than any
other man on the face of the earth (Numbers
Was Moses really so humble? He
certainly did express his feelings of inadequacy for the job of being G-d's
agent to redeem the Jewish people from Egypt
(Exodus 3:11; 4:10), but he
also asserted himself many times
(e.g. Killing the Egyptian [Exodus 2:12], speaking forcibly to Pharaoh
[During the 10 Plagues], smashing the Tablets [ibid. 32:19], etc.).
In defining the word "anavah"
(Hebrew for humility), classical Jewish commentaries teach us how talent
and humility can coexist. Rabbi Shlomo, son of Yitzchak (1040-1105 France)
defines an act of anavah (humility) as an act done naturally and
without a sense of special importance.
Humility is the recognition that
anybody given my talents and opportunities in life could accomplish as
much as I have and perhaps even more then me. A world-class weightlifter
who lifts 500 pounds or a person with an I.Q. of 180 who solves a complex
math problem can remain humble by recognizing that anybody given their
physical or mental strengths could accomplish what they have done. For a
person with the spiritual capabilities and opportunities of Moses,
communication with G-d is commonplace.
Recognizing our G-d
In order for our definition of humility
to be truly practical, we must add another element to it. The knowledge
that anyone with my talents could act as I have may still be insufficient
to generate humility. I may still feel arrogant about the very real fact
that I have been granted certain talents. Here is how the Torah teaches us
to deal with our talents.
You may eat and be
satisfied, building fine houses . . . Your herds and flocks may
increase, and you may amass much silver and gold . . . But your heart
may grow haughty, and you may forget G-d . . . and say to yourself, 'It
was my own strength and personal power that brought me all this
prosperity'. You must remember that it is G-d your L-rd who gives you
the power to become prosperous.
(ibid.) explains that G-d
warns the Jewish people against feeling conceited because they are
so talented. Jews are fearless warriors, intellectual "overachievers," and
spiritual giants. To be truly humble, you must recognize that G-d chose to
create you with your unique talents. G-d gave you certain talents
as a means to accomplishing your divinely ordained role.
Abraham was a multi-talented individual.
His sense of humility was not a result of unassertiveness or inactivity.
Recognizing that G-d was the source of his physical strength and military
genius made it possible for him to recognize his very real physical and
intellectual talents, and yet avoid taking credit for his military
victory. Upon his triumphant return from battle, people pointed their
fingers at Abraham. "Abraham is the source of our success," they said.
With one gesture skyward, Abraham directed their attention to the source
of his success.
Facing our own successes
The spotlight of mankind so prominently
shines on the Jewish people. We have spread monotheism to large segments
of the human race, we posses 11% of all Nobel prizes, and we confound
military analysts in our victories. Our national and individual challenges
are to recognize the source of our talents. They are challenges to remain
humble in the face of our greatest successes.