Moses and Joshua Two Levels of Humility
By Shmuel Samuels
Moses was called the humblest of men even though he killed an Egyptian taskmaster who was beating a Jewish slave. That took some guts. When Moses sent out the twelve spies to bring back a report about the virtues of the Land of Israel, he blessed Joshua, calling him Joshua instead of his real name, Hoshaya. The rabbis explain that he prayed that G-d should help Joshua deal with the other spies.
The reason that Moses prayed for Joshua was that he perceived Joshua as being a humble man. He was afraid that he was like most people who are humble, that they normally give in to others, especially if he is of a minority opinion and is being opposed by a majority opinion. Joshua was about to embark on a 'spy' session. Moses did not want him to be influenced by the others.
In reality, Moses understood that there are two ways in which a person can reach a level of humility. The first is by contemplating his own worthlessness in the world. What can one person achieve? What is one person really worth in relation to others? There is always some one greater either in intelligence, strength, or other ability. No matter how great or influential he may become, others come and change what ever he accomplished. In the end the great majority of people are totally forgotten.
Now the more is aware of this, the more insignificant he will feel. A person like this realizes that he came from dust and is going to return to dust. This is a very impermanent world and is only just a hallway before entering to the 'real' world. With this type of mentality it is possible that a person would think, "Who am I to oppose other perhaps greater minds than myself, especially if they are in greater number."
Yet there is another type of contemplation that will generate humility that is the reflection on the greatness of G-d. When one is in constant contemplation of the greatness of G-d, that even the angels can not fathom Him, that they stand in awe and fear in front of Him. When man considers that G-d is, was, and will be and all at the same time; that time is meaningless to Him, that He sees all of our inner thoughts and records all of our deeds, we can not fathom Him. He is too great, too all encompassing, too beyond our ability to even have the most simplistic understanding of Him. From this type of contemplation, a man will also be brought into a second type of state of humility.
But there is a difference between the two states of humility and there is a relationship between the two which is very important to be aware of.
The difference between the two is that the first type of humility is world and people oriented. The person is aware of his personal shortcomings in relation to the world around him and the people in it. This very likely can lead a person to be inhibited and insecure in making a decisive decision. He is aware that often he is wrong in his thoughts and severely limited in his logical abilities to reason. This will generally give him a feeling of uncertainty in standing up to others and expressing his own opinion.
It is only when a person has contemplated the greatness of G-d and the insignificance of the world around him that he can be an equal to all around him. For once he has understood that the greatest mountains and the smallest hills are equal in the eyes of G-d, that the intelligence of the greatest scholars and the simplest of men are considered as nothing in the eyes of G-d, only then will he can have courage to express his opinion.
However, to reach this higher level of humility one first must enter into the lower level of humility, the level where he sees that he has no real power in this world, that his abilities are really no better than those around him. This is a real humility, real but not a complete humility. This is a necessary prerequisite to achieving the higher level of humility. One can not just ignore his personal level of inability in relation to the world around and jump into the higher level of humility that is G-d based.
In order to reach the highest level, you must start with the lower level. Realize that you are limited both in your abilities to do something and in your abilities to reason and understand. Realize that you are a lowly creature, that you are from the dust and soon you will be back there with the dust. Soon all memory of you will fade from this world and that all that seems so important in this world is really a waste of time, even though for the moment there is a pressing need for it. Once you have realized that you are really nothing special, that you not only can be replaced, eventually you will be replaced, and subsequently forgotten, that those around you are just a worthy as you. You will come to the first stage of humility which is based on the physical world.
Now you are ready to go up to the level of humility based on closeness to G-d. When you realize that He is the true and only Truth, that only He endures forever, that He is timeless and that time is meaningless to Him. The type of humility will change to one that is G-d related. No longer will other's opinion be threatening to you, your opinion is just as worthy of all of civilizations, since your opinion is based on G-d, the ultimate truth. When you are doing a mitzvah, you will realize that you are not connected only to this world, but you are connected to a stronger power, a power that lifts you from the mundane into the super spiritual realm of the G-dliness. No longer will others inhibit you. Why should they? Their opinions are no better than yours; plus you are connected with the King of Kings, the Eternal Ruler of the universe, the Holy One, blessed is He.
This is the blessing that Moses wished to bestow on Joshua. He added the Hebrew letter "YUD" to his name. The Yud is the first letter of G-d's Holy Name; together with the Hebrew letter "HEY" from Joshua's original name, Hoshaya, it made up YUD HAY which is a name of G-d.
Moses was the most humble of men. But he knew that it was only the humility that came from the constant contemplation of G-d that would be able to bring Joshua above the evil plans of the spies.
So it is with us. Let us take this lesson and spend our free time contemplating the true state of the world around us and also contemplate the greatness of G-d. In doing that, we shall rise above the world and achieve true humility at the same time.
from the July 2008 Edition of the Jewish Magazine