On Shabbat, my family precedes the motzi blessing on challah with a little tune: “We give thanks to God for bread, our voices rise in song together as our _______ prayer is said.” The blank is filled with any impromptu word that expresses how the family is feeling that week.
Lately, the word “humble” has been filling that spot: “Our humble prayer is said.”
In this week’s parshah, we learn about one of Moshe’s most important character traits—his humility. Hungry and thirsty in the desert, the people of Israel rally against him. They bitterly complain that they would rather have remained in the safety of slavery in Egypt, where they always had a square meal, than face the uncertainty of freedom in the desert.
Moshe calls out to God for help, proclaiming that he cannot lead these people alone; the burden is too great. In response, God offers to confer the spirit of leadership on seventy elders to assist Moshe. When two of them—Eldad and Medad—begin to prophesize in the camp, Moshe’s trusted friend, Joshua Ben Nun, entreats Moshe to restrain this challenge to his leadership. Moshe replies, “Why are you jealous on my account? Would that all God’s people were prophets, and that God conferred the spirit upon all of them!”
Moshe is a humble leader who hoped that all of his people could be leaders. He does not desire to be the only one who has the gift of God’s spirit.
At the end of the parshah, Moshe faces a personal leadership challenge. His own brother and sister defy him, claiming that they too are prophets of God. Here, we read the famous verse: “Moshe was very humble, more than any other person on earth.” At this moment, he reaches the depths of his humility because his very own brother and sister challenge him. God is furious with Aaron and Miriam’s arrogance, and strikes Miriam with leprosy.
Rather than showing anger or disappointment, Moshe responds by praying for Miriam to be healed. In this moment, the love for his sister overcomes any slight he may have felt. It is thus a shining moment of Moshe’s leadership.
This moment teaches us how love may be the strongest source for generating humility.