Thank you so much for your weekly column. I was wondering if you could explain the difference, as you see it, between self-confidence and gayva. Self-confidence is considered, certainly by psychologists, as a good thing while gayva is considered the worst of all middos. I understand that they are different but would be interested in hearing how you define the difference and at what point does something cross from self-confidence which is healthy to gayva which is wrong?
In response to your question, I will post a d’var Torah that I submitted for the Pesach 2019 Kingsway Jewish Center haggadah…
Why were we worthy of being freed from slavery in Egypt, and of being granted all the gifts enumerated in the song of Dayeinu? As we know, we were steeped in the depths of impurity. Obviously, Moshe was instrumental in the process, and he was certainly a great man. However, there were other holy people among the Jews in Egypt. Moshe’s parents, Amram and Yocheved, for instance, were righteous people. Regardless, was one man’s greatness truly enough to overcome the sins of an entire nation?
Perhaps the answer lies in seemingly contradictory descriptions of Moshe. The Torah describes Moshe as both the greatest prophet ever and as the humblest of men. In the common vernacular, humility is generally viewed as a tendency to denigrate oneself—or at the very least not to acknowledge one’s greatness. Using this definition, are we to understand that Moshe was not aware of his stature? Did he not recognize his abilities and accomplishments? Was he not capable of seeing what everyone else clearly saw?
It seems obvious that Moshe was keenly aware of his greatness in all areas. Not only was he highly righteous and pious, but he was highly intelligent and introspective as well. How could he have otherwise been able to attain his myriad accomplishments?
I would suggest that the “humility” mentioned in the Torah is in no way related to self-denigration or disregarding of one’s essence. In fact, humility can be viewed as the ability to view one’s qualities from a deeper and more profound perspective. Most of us are able to like others for their intrinsic qualities—who they are—not for their capabilities or accomplishments. We don’t analyze others’ qualities in order to decide whether we like them; our feelings toward others are instinctive. We judge ourselves, however, based on external factors. We therefore constantly rely on our abilities and achievements in order to like ourselves. The reason that we judge others is to feel better about ourselves. If we were able to simply like ourselves the way that we simply like others, we would have no need to judge ourselves or others.
I propose that Moshe’s great humility lay in his ability to acknowledge his qualities from an intrinsic perspective. Since he simply accepted who he was, he had no need to focus on these qualities. He didn’t put himself down or scorn his positive qualities. Nor did he try to inflate his ego based on his qualities. He therefore had no need to judge others. In this sense, Moshe viewed himself as the same as everyone else. This may be what the Torah is referring to when it describes Moshe as the most humble of people.
Due to his humility, Moshe was able to completely devote his entire self to Hashem’s will, allowing him to reach the heights that he attained. In this way, Moshe’s humility and his greatness go hand-in-hand. Specifically, due to Moshe’s great understanding and introspection, he was able to dispense with ego-related thoughts and actions. The more humility that he achieved, the greater a person he became…and the greater he became, the more humility he achieved.
Due to Moshe’s great humility, he was able to be view himself as the same as everyone else. Since he had no need to artificially bolster his self-esteem, he was able to measure himself and others against the true yardstick—Hashem himself whose qualities are immeasurable. From that perspective no human is measurably greater than any other.
Surely Moshe’s concrete accomplishments helped lead to our freedom from slavery and to all the other gifts that were bestowed upon us. Perhaps, however, a key harbinger of our freedom and the establishment of our great nation was Moshe’s continual demonstration of this goal—not to judge others, and to be as one with all of our fellow Jews.
-Yehuda Lieberman, LCSW
psychotherapist in private practice
adjunct professor at Touro College
Graduate School of Social Work
author of Self-Esteem: A Primer
www.ylcsw.com / 516-218-4200
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