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Shabbat Parashat Bo| 5767
Ask the Rabbi
Question: I am a young rabbi; I have begun looking for rabbinical positions. I have tried to work on anava (humility), but now people advise me to write an impressive resume and stress my talents to potential employers. Should I be leading this double life, or is there some fallacy here?
Answer: The attribute of anava is extremely important, and according to some, is the most important one (Avoda Zara 20b). The Rambam writes that it is the one area where one should not follow the golden mean. That being said, by understanding the nature of humility, one can apply it in a livable manner.
Going through classical sources on anava and its opposite, ga’ava, (such as in Maharal’s Neitvot Olam and Orchot Tzadikim), one finds clearly that humility is primarily related to what one thinks and feels, rather than what he says. Speech is just one way in which one’s feelings become known to others. The offense of haughtiness is not only in the way it makes others feel but, philosophically, in how one view’s himself within Hashem’s world. A perfect G-d created a world in which each person has the potential to leave his mark, but he does not become the ruler or the center of the little world around him. Failure to understand this is an affront to the Creator and Ruler who commanded him to think about other individuals and community.
Let us give two of many sources that illustrate some of these ideas. R. Yochanan says (Sota 4b) that whoever is haughty is as if he denies the existence of Hashem, as it says: “… and your heart will be high, and you will forget Hashem, your G-d.” This puts haughtiness in the theological realm as we have posited. The gemara (Megilla 31a) says: “Wherever you see Hashem’s greatness, you see His humility.” It then brings p’sukim that extol Hashem’s greatness, followed by a pasuk that Hashem loves and helps the stranger. If humility depends on what one says about himself, this makes no sense. How is Hashem humble if He says in His Torah that not only is He great, but He also cares for the weak? Rather, the gemara means that Hashem does not use his greatness to build Himself up but to help others. Ga’ava, then, is about being self-centered. To think just about oneself and look down on others but speak humbly is hypocrisy, not humility.
However, there are guidelines for speech. It says in Mishlei (27:2): “Others should praise you, but not your mouth.” Yet, the gemara (Nedarim 62a) says that in a place where a Torah scholar is not known, he may identify himself as such. When there is another to point out who he is, it is improper to speak about oneself. Tosafot (Kiddushin 30a) brings a contradiction. Bava Metzia 23b says that one can/should lie rather than tell how much Torah he has learned. Kiddushin 30a says that when one is asked a question, he should answer with confidence, not hesitantly. This implies that he should show his greatness in Torah. Tosafot answers that when there is no purpose for the counterpart to know of his scholarship, he should hide it. When others should know that one is a talmid chacham, he should let it be known. If one is lucky, he will not have to say so himself, which is uncomfortable for one with internal humility. If he needs to, he should find the appropriate way to let out the information.
Using a resume and a confident (not haughty) presentation of one’s accomplishments and qualifications is appropriate to secure a job. (It is better to hint or cite facts than to make a self-appraisal.) A rabbi must ensure that his class or congregation knows it can rely on his expertise. An institution that needs money to continue its work has an obligation to its projects and dependents to convince potential donors that it is a wise philanthropic choice. If they do so too openly, they will be viewed as lacking anava. If they do not feel uncomfortable doing so, they may have lost their internal anava. So “show what you’ve got,” as necessary, now and in the future, and continue to feel uncomfortable about it.
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