Parsha B’ha’alotcha: What Makes a Person Humble?

This week’s parsha (Torah portion) is a turning point. It starts off with meritous actions and it ends with complaints. It is called B’ha’alotcha and means, “In your causing something to go up,” and it is referring to haShem (god) telling Aharon he is to cause the candles of the menorah to light up. Before I get too much ahead of myself, let me summarize the parsha.


This week, the Torah begins with Aharon being told to light the menorah. It then continues with the initiation of the Levites into their service with the mishcan (tabernacle). We then have the story of how we received a second Pesach (Passover) for those who could not do the first one, and then, after last minutes instructions, we leave Mount Sinai and go on our first journey.


The parsha ends following this first trip with lots of complaints, too much quail, god getting angry, people dying, and Miriam getting tzaarat and having to be in quarantine for a week.


If you get a sense there is more than just what I have written, you are right. I thought about putting in more detail, and I realized for me to even begin to do it justice, I would almost have to write out the whole parsha. I doubt I could do as good as job as haShem did, so I believe it would be better for you to read the parsha yourself and not rely on my to fill it what I have left out. 🙂


Now, the most obvious thing to talk about is the transition that happens to the people after we leave on the first leg of the journey. I have, in fact, written about this here, and I do not wish to repeat myself, so if you want to read it, just click here and you will be taken to my thoughts on the matter.


Today I want to talk about what it means to be humble. Most of us are taught to believe it means being self-effacing and being a doormat. And yet, verse 3 of chapter 12 in B’meedbar (Numbers) tells us that Moshe (Moses) was the most humble man in the world.


How can the most humble man in the world write that he is the most humble man in the world?


Maybe our definition of humble is wrong. If so, we need a new definition.


Given that the Torah has called Moshe the most humble man, perhaps if we look at his actions, we can learn what humble really means.


In chapter 8, just as the nation is preparing the Pesach, some people ask Moshe how they can participate after burying a deceased relative. Moshe does not know the answer to their question and what does he do? Does he make something up? No. He tells them he does not know, and then he goes and finds the answer (by asking haShem). He then stops the whole nation from their preparation, and shares with them this new law about a makeup Pesach.


In Chapter 10, Moshe’s brother in law wants to return to Midian. Moshe does his best to persuade him to stay.


In Chapter 11, the people complain about the lack of meat and variety of food. God starts to get angry, and Moshe sees this and knows if he does not do anything, things will not end well. He approaches haShem and reminds god whose idea it was to bring the people out in the first place, and then admits that he needs help in keeping the people on a positive track. He then is willing to give up some of his power and share his ability to talk with haShem to 70 other people.


Later, when two other elders start to prophesize in the camp, and his young attendant wants them punished, Moshe responds by saying that he was touched his attendant was concerned about Moshe’s authority, and it was ok that they prophesized. In fact, Moshe continues to say he wished everybody was a prophet, even if it meant that he was no longer special as the main prophet.


And in chapter 12, after haShem gives Tzaarat to his sister Miriam after she accused him of not acting appropriately, he prays to god to heal her.


What I see haShem trying to tell us is that a humble person is one who admits to their shortcomings (I don’t know, I need help), does his job to the best of his abilities (telling the people what haShem wants from them, and trying to keep his brother-in-law, who is an excellent scout, with the people), and wants people to be the best that they can (I wish everyone was a prophet, Miriam needs to be healed).


This definition of a humble person is certainly different from the one we were taught. Tell me, which do you prefer?

If you care to read what I wrote about this parsha last year, click here.

About the Author

Picture of Shmuel Shalom Cohen Shmuel Shalom Cohen spent 10 years studying Torah in Jerusalem. Six years ago, he started Conscious Torah to help Jews connect to their tradition in ways they didn’t think possible. Shmuel also started, and is the executive directory of Jewish Events Willamette-valley, a non-profit whose mission is to build Jewish community, pride, and learning. In his free time, Shmuel likes walks in nature, playing music, writing poetry, and time with good friends.

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