40 - Situations - Be Very, Very Humble

one must strive for absolutely total humility.


We are stretching in ahavas yisrael together to create

z’chuyos for K’lal Yisrael in these urgent times.



Last week’s stretch of the week was:  Say hello to someone you rarely pay attention to, and think of something positive about them.

Please allow ONE person to share her experience with this exercise for ONE minute.



Lesson #40


Be Very, Very Humble

Perek Daled, Mishna Daled

 ×ž××“ מאד הוי שפל רוח

M'ode M'ode Hevai Sh'fal Ruach

Story(based on a true story)

In my journey in life I’ve learned that humility isn’t something that can necessarily be learned from mere explanation.  The many facets of what it takes to be a humble person must also be taught by example.  I have been blessed to have been taught this lesson by my parents, a”h. 

Back in the early 80’s while I was in grade school, my father worked with a man named Moe who was diagnosed with a life threatening illness and was forced to take a leave of absence.  My father truly liked this man and would call and check up on him, each time finding out that his coworker was getting sicker and sicker. 

One day I saw my father at the kitchen table with a stack of get well cards - there must have been close to thirty in the pile.  My father was taking each one and writing little messages, some silly and some sincere and encouraging.  All ended pretty much the same, with “Everyone misses you!  So many people love and care about you!  Stay strong!"  He mailed Moe a card or two a week, and signed none of them.  When I asked why, he replied, “He doesn’t need to know that these cards are from me specifically.  He just needs the messages.”

When I was even younger, my mother was driving us home from the grocery store when she saw an elderly lady walking towards a bus stop.  When the woman’s brown paper grocery bag ripped and all her food tumbled out across the sidewalk, my mother pulled the car over, got out, and proceeded to help the stranger pick up all the groceries.  The next thing I knew, she was helping this woman and her groceries into our car and driving her home.  When we reached the woman’s house, she tried to give my mother some money while thanking her profusely.  My mother sternly refused the money over and over.  “Absolutely not!  This was my good deed, it’s not for sale!”

Nowadays, I’m grown-up with children of my own and I’m still learning humility, while working on teaching my children these lessons as well.  A year ago I was asked to be the set director for my daughter’s school play.  I really got into my role, devising clever ways to get supplies we needed on a low budget, with successful results.  There was one girl in her school that hated the set design and props and needled me constantly with snide remarks.  I calmly spoke to her several times, but her attitude remained.

This girl was a senior and was randomly assigned the job of “HaKaras HaTov” gifts to be presented at the cast party after the show.  When it came time for the gifts to be given out, my daughter whispered to me while giggling, “Get ready, you’re going to have to go up there soon!  All the directors receive a little gift and say a little something-it’s such an honor!"  We watched as the main director was called up with cheers and hoots.  Then the music director and the costume director.  And then --- nothing. 

It was noticed.  Everyone painfully looked around and stared at me sitting with my daughter.  I plastered on a smile and whispered to my daughter to do the same.  Then we watched as the main director turned to the girl in charge and quietly asked about Mrs. Zalcman’s gift.  The girl in charge shrugged her shoulders and I could see the other directors were very uncomfortable and I felt horrible for them.  My daughter was close to tears. 

I would be a liar if I didn’t admit that my ego was bruised, and my feelings were hurt at my obvious snub.  But then I remembered my father, a”h, selflessly writing those many cards to Moe, honoring his friend and taking no credit whatsoever.  I remembered my mother, a"h, refusing to take any money for doing a mitzva, even though she could have used it.  I took a deep breath, kept that smile on my face and whispered to my daughter to do the same.  My ego wouldn’t rule me; I would rule my ego. 

Once we got in the car, my daughter started to cry and told me how much she wanted me to get that gift for all I had done for the show.  My heart broke for her.  But like in life, I told her, not everyone gets what they want or expect - and I never did this job for the kudos or the gift.  Just the fact that she appreciated me meant the world to me, and I knew that so many others in that auditorium did too.  However, when doing a chessed, like this job of helping the school out, one must never expect anything back.  Better I reap my reward for the chessed and quietly hold my head up high. 

My daughter dried her tears and we shared a hug of understanding.  In the end, passing on a lesson of humility was my true reward.

Pirkay Avos:

"רבי לויטס איש יבנה אומר:  מאד מאד הוי שפל רוח..."


"Rabi Levitas ish Yavne omer:  M'ode m'ode hevai sh'fal ruach... "

"Rabi Levitas of Yavne says:  Be very, very humble... ." (Perek Daled, Mishna Daled).

This mishna uses an unusual expression, found nowhere else in Pirkai Avos:  “very, very."  He implies that one must strive for absolutely total humility.  The repeated words refer to two aspects of humility.  The first is, as stated by Ben Azzai previously, honoring others.  The second, as postulated in the present mishna, is the awareness of one’s own shortcomings.  In Chasidic parlance, this is why a person has two eyes:  one to see the virtues of others, and the other to view one’s own imperfections.

Rabbainu Bachya illustrates this idea in his Chovos Hal'vavos (Sha'ar Hachniya, Chapter 10) by telling of a Torah sage who asked why people accept his authority even though they reject that of sages greater than he.  He replied, “That is because I have never met anyone whom I did not regard as being superior to me.”

He proceeded to explain:  “When I meet someone wiser than myself, I assume that he must be more God-fearing than I, since he understands more.  When I meet someone not as intelligent as I am, I tell myself that when I commit a sin it is with full consciousness, whereas if he does so, it is out of error or misunderstanding. 

“If I meet someone wealthier than I am, I tell myself that he has had the opportunity to give more charity than I have been able to.  If I meet someone poorer than I am, I remind myself that because he has suffered, he has gained more atonement than I have."  Rabbainu Bachya cites as the source for that sage’s attitude this very mishna.

The Chasid Rabbainu Yosef Ya'avetz adds that a humble person not only honors others but, if disparaged, suffers that affront in silence.  He is one of those “who are insulted but do not insult, hear themselves disgraced but do not respond” (Gittin 36b).  He sees no need to respond.

In the end, “those who love Him will be like the sun as it comes forth in its might” (Shoftim 5:31).  Their light will shine in the eyes of all; everyone will see their qualities as clearly as they see the sun. 

(Reproduced from Rav Lau on Pirkei Avos and from Pirkei Avos with Ideas and Insights of the Sfas Emes and other Chassidic Masters, with permission of the copyright holders, ArtScroll / Mesorah Publications, Ltd.)


Discussion Question Options:

What are some ways to honor others?  What are examples of seeing the virtues in others?

It's always easier to see the good in ourselves vs. the negative.  How often are we aware of our own imperfections?  How do we become aware?

Is it difficult or not to be insulted or disgraced and not respond?  Give examples both ways.



Stretch of the Week:

Make a point of being consciously humble in some way this week.


Stretch Of The Week