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Beit Midrash Series Parashat Hashavua

Humility – A Basic Character Trait of a Jewish Leader

Moshe Rabbeinu, who grew up as a prince in Paroh’s house, as the adopted son of the king’s daughter, and engaged in negotiations with Paroh, reached a new high in our parasha. The Torah describes him as having a lofty perch, both among his Jewish brethren and among the Egyptian nobility (see Shemot 11:3). Despite this, Moshe remained the most humble of men, as the following gemara highlights: “The pasuk says: ‘Not due to your great numbers amongst the nations did Hashem desire you…’ – Hashem said to Israel: ‘I have desired you because even when I bestow greatness upon you, you make yourselves small before Me; I gave greatness to Moshe and Aharon, and they said “What are we?”’” (Chulin 89a). Moshe did not consider himself a “gadol.”
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Moshe Rabbeinu, who grew up as a prince in Paroh’s house, as the adopted son of the king’s daughter, and engaged in negotiations with Paroh, reached a new high in our parasha. The Torah describes him as having a lofty perch, both among his Jewish brethren and among the Egyptian nobility (see Shemot 11:3). Despite this, Moshe remained the most humble of men, as the following gemara highlights: "The pasuk says: ‘Not due to your great numbers amongst the nations did Hashem desire you…’ – Hashem said to Israel: ‘I have desired you because even when I bestow greatness upon you, you make yourselves small before Me; I gave greatness to Moshe and Aharon, and they said "What are we?"’" (Chulin 89a). Moshe did not consider himself a "gadol."

Let us compare Moshe to another great man, one with tremendous potential, who received an unusually bold compliment from the prophet: "The counsel of Achitofel which he gave in those days was like one who would ask for the word of Hashem" (Shmuel II, 16:23). Despite this distinction, Achitofel finished his life in a tragic manner (see ibid. 17:23), and he did not have a significant impact on Bnei Yisrael. Let us try to understand why this is so.

Achitofel gave Avshalom two pieces of advice: 1. To have relations with his father’s concubines, to finalize the break from David (ibid. 16:21). The Radak explains that this good idea (practically, obviously not morally) gave confidence to Avshalom’s supporters that he would not return to David at their expense. 2. To choose an elite force under Achitofel to immediately pursue and kill David (ibid. 17:1-3). The Radak says that this too was good advice, which would have worked had there not been intervention. If so, the question is why did Achitofel commit suicide after the advice was not accepted, if he had served Avshalom well?

Let us suggest the following. The gemara (Sanhedrin 101b) relates that Achitofel saw in his future that kings would come from him and assumed that this would come by means of his becoming king first. Achitofel figured that Avshalom would weaken David, and he would ultimately take over. Achitofel figured that Avshalom would cause the damage to David but would not succeed in taking over the crown because he would lose the respect of the people because of his relations with David’s concubines. Immorality would do him in as it had to Amnon. Achitofel offered to attack David with the elite forces and that would have given him an inner track to the crown.

The root of Achitofel’s problem was his lack of humility as we see from the use of "I" many times in his speech. We now understand why he committed suicide. Once he saw he would not be king, he realized that his vision would not be fulfilled, and he would be exposed as a fraud.

What a huge difference in humility (or lack thereof, respectively) between Moshe and Achitofel. May we merit leaders like Moshe.
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