The Second Gate — The Gate of Humility

Originally posted at MamaDomain.

Humility is a noble and good trait–the opposite of pride. “For humility is the root of Divine service, and a small deed of the humble man is a thousand times more acceptable to the Blessed One than a great deed of the proud man. And so did our Rabbis teach (Berachos 5b): “Both he who does much and he who does little, so long as his heart is intent on the glory of God.” (p. 57)

We are obligated to consider ourselves unworthy of all we have. If we truly understood that we deserve nothing but destruction, if we really got that left to ourselves we are nothing, then we would realize that all we have is a gracious gift from God given as an expression of who He is, not who we are. This is not the same as self-abasing. This is not about self-hatred. For that is contempt of God’s creation, not humility.

Humility leads us to appreciate all we have been graciously given and embrace our mistakes and our flaws and identify them instead of trying to mask and hide them from God or others. What we don’t know is an opportunity to learn; what we mess up is an opportunity to grow and fix; what we give creates an opportunity to bless others and have room to receive. Humility expresses itself in not only being righteous in our actions in money and all other matters–treating others fairly and according to fair means–but also in recognizing the wisdom of others and the opportunity to learn from them and grow from what they have to share as well.

“Another great form of humility is to study before the young and to ask them what one does not know, and not to say: “How can I study before him and how can I inquire of him? Is he not younger than I?” Concerning this it is written (Tehillim 119:99): “From all my teachers did I become wise.” And our Rabbis have stated further (Avos 4:4): “Be exceedingly humble of spirit” before all persons–one must be humble of spirit not only before the great, but even before the small. One who follows this course brings merit to society, for he finds favor in the eyes of all who see him, all of his deeds and practices are accepted by them, and he is always praised by them. Because of this they desire to emulate him, they all bless their children to be humble and forbearing like him, and in this way he sanctifies the name of the Blessed One. But the proud man desecrates the Blessed One’s name and causes many to sin. He is like a carcass flung out into the street, which causes each passerby to hold his nose until he has passed it (Avos d’Rabbi Nasan 11:12)

One teaching is that the righteous actions of those who wrong the humble are taken from the one who did them and credited to the humble person who was wronged while the transgressions of those who are slandered are taken from the one slandered and given to the one who slandered them. Sort of a redistribution of sins for which one is accountable. But if you insult a righteous man it is as though you have insulted God. This is why Miriam and Aaron became leprous when they spoke publicly against Moses.

“If the Blessed One graces a man with wealth and children and He gives him wisdom in abundance, understanding and honor, he should be even more humble and lowly before the Blessed Creator and honor men and pursue their good to an even greater extent than before.” (p 67) These things fall into one of 3 categories:
1) good from the Holy One Blessed be He–revealed when the person who has them does not harm anyone with them and seeks instead to bless and honor others with these things
2) as a trial–revealed by the person being preoccupied with protecting these things and unable to derive enjoyment from them or bless others with them
3) as revenge–revealed by the person using these things to harm others and blesses no one with them

Humility is also gained when you wrong someone and humble yourself before them to apologize and seek forgiveness and seek to make things right. It is not always about what is done, but about what is done about what was done.

“Humility is the ladder by which one ascends to the ways of the Holy One Blessed be He.” (p 71) The humble man’s defects are forgotten because they are not the focus of who he is.

“One of the tzaddikim was asked: “How did you merit becoming master of the men of your generation? He answered: “Be regarding every man I saw as better than I. If he were wiser than I, I said: ‘He also fears Hashem more than I do because of his great wisdom.’ If he were not so wise as I, I said: ‘His sins are unintentional and mine re willful.’ If he were older than I, I said: ‘His merits are more than mine.’ If I were older than he, I said: ‘His sins are fewer than mind.’ If he were my equal in wisdom and years I said: ‘His heart is better to God than mine, for I know the sins that I have committed, but I do not know his.’ If he were richer than I, I said: ‘He gives more charity than I do.’ If he were poorer, I said: ‘He is of a more contrite and lowly spirit than I, and he is better than I.’ So saying, I honored all men and humbled myself before them.” (p 75)

It is important, however to never humble oneself or efface oneself before the wicked. Wickedness must be identified for what it is and the righteous should never pretend to be less than wickedness. It is also wicked to pretend to be humble for the sake of gaining the benefits of the humble. When humility is a show put on for the sake of others, it is nothing but pride in disguise.

Relevance to Parenting:

For many years when asked how large our family would be I would answer that I believed God would use every child to teach me and I would stop having children when I had learned all they had to teach me. When we did stop having children I explained that it was because I had so much I was unable to learn and so much more those I had were already seeking to teach me–and the answers to the questions I was beginning to get were so beyond me that I was not ready to learn them.

So often the answer to a parenting challenge comes in the form of the answer to the question, “If I were this child, what would I want someone to do/say to me?” Or, in other words, how can I do unto this child what I would have done to me?

In so much hierarchy within the church the parent is elevated above the child, but there is not Biblical precedence for this. Rather, Scripture reveals over and over the model of servant leadership. Messiah washed the feet of his disciples. We are called to follow in His footsteps. Messiah did not view being enthroned in the heavenlies as a greater existence than coming to live among and die for His Creation. Why do I struggle with stepping down from the role of parent and into the role of servant for my children?

When Paul is giving Timothy the list of character qualities that one needs to have to be a good elder or deacon he uses a phrase that is most often translated “He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect.” (1 Timothy 3:4) This is better understood (based on newer understanding of the Greek combined with a better understanding of the Hebraic idea being presented) as look to the person and how their family responds to them. The family knows the secret man, you only see the public one. Obedience, in both the Hebrew and the Greek, involves an assumption that the one being obeyed has earned the trust and respect of the one obeying. So if the children are obeying then they are being raised by someone who has earned their respect and is worthy of that obedience. The warning Paul issues is this (in the next verse): As they manage their home, so will they manage the church. How often incredibly punitive and unworthy parents are put into the pulpit and the members of their church body begin to wonder why they are treated so harshly and held to such an unrighteous and petty standard. Legalism comes from putting someone in the pulpit who is able to bully his own children into compliance. Grace abounds in the Body when someone who is humble lives a life that earns the respect of their children so that when they are put into the role of elder/deacon/pastor/anything befitting their gifts they continue to live a righteous and humble life so that the members of their congregation respect them and seek to follow in their footsteps.

Yeshua gave us the greatest example of humility. He came to earth as a man, lived among us, modeled righteousness for us, taught his disciples with love and servanthood, died for us to reconcile us to God, and has told us to wait for Him to return–a promise we can trust because he had earned our respect and devotion.

May I parent my children the way Yeshua discipled his disciples while here on earth and continues to disciple me. May I approach them with grace and humility–remembering that they are my teacher at least as much as I am theirs. May I remember that they are God’s children before they are mine–and that they are mine only because God entrusted them to me. May I conduct myself in such a way that my children and all we have are revealed to be a blessing–and not a test or revenge.