Weekly Torah Commentary — Shoftim September 2, 2011

This week’s portion says that a Jewish king is commanded to write for himself a Torah scroll and to carry it with him at all times (Deut. 17:18-20). The idea behind this is that the king needs to maintain perspective. He should remember just where his power comes from, and not make the mistake of thinking that he is in control. In Jewish thinking, arrogance is the worst of all character traits, while humility is the greatest.

The purpose of humility is not so much a hedge against becoming intoxicated with power; rather, the idea is that humility itself is empowering. But how does this work?

Humility does not mean lack of self-esteem nor does it require self-denigration. Judaism’s teaching is that humility is a recognition that there are more important things in this world than my own desires and needs. Humility is a matter of perspective. Regardless of one’s talents and giftings, humility causes us to realize that the world does not revolve around me. The humble person understands that doing what’s right is infinitely more valuable than serving myself.

The more humble, the greater the leader, because a humble person has no interest in his own honor, power and self-aggrandizement. He serves those whom he leads.

In Torah law, the people are not servants of the king; the king is a servant of the people. The first king of Israel, Saul, did not want the job. And because he did not want the job, he was the right man for the job. Here’s the bottom line: to the extent that a leader enjoys the trappings of power, to that extent he is no longer focused on serving the people.

The humble person will not only have the confidence of those he leads, he will also be unafraid of those he leads. Doing that which is right for the nation is all that matters to him. Whether or not he is popular is irrelevant.

On a personal level, this applies to us as well. If you have humility, then living with what you believe to be right is more important than what others think of you. A humble person is unaffected by social pressures, unmoved by societal norms. Humility is the foundation of true independence.

Arrogance is a fast track to mediocrity which ultimately leads to failure. Humility, on the other hand, paves the way for greatness. It is no accident that the Torah considers Moses – “the most humble of all” – to be the greatest human being that ever lived.

In Tune with Torah this week = as we begin the month of Elul, the month of repentance, let us conduct a sincere examination of our own hearts, honestly confronting the reality of how often we do in fact make our own desires and needs more important than serving others. Let us repent of that selfishness which is an enemy of humility and ask Hashem for His help in mending our ways.

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