Parashas Balak 5772 -- Why we are drawn to humiliy; Admitting we don't know; Leave it to the Experts
by Jonathan Rosenblum
July 4, 2012
Why we are drawn to modesty
No quality so draws people as anivus (modesty). I'm not speaking about the modesty of someone like the gentleman once described by Winston Churchill as "a modest man who had a great deal to be modest about." Rather I'm talking about those whose essential modesty remains unaffected by their natural gifts or their significant accomplishments, particularly great talmidei chachamim.
Genuine anivus is the greatest power of hashpa'a (influence). In the presence of an anav (modest person), one feels elevated and filled with a desire to be more like him. Words that lack all trace of a personal agenda encounter less resistance. The more unthinkable it is that a person would ever praise himself or do anything to call attention to himself, the more others are eager to praise him in fulfillment of Chazal's statement: "One who flees from kavod, kavod pursues him."
In our attraction to anivus, we are reflecting HaKadosh Baruch Hu himself. The highest praise that the Torah can give to Moshe Rabbeinu is to describe him as anav meod (exceedingly humble) (Bamidbar 12:3). And the Gemara in Nedarim (38a) says that "the Divine Presence rests only on one who is heroic, rich, smart, and humble."
Rabbi Chaim Volozhin asks in Ruach Chaim (4:1) why should only those who are strong, rich, and smart be capable of receiving the Divine Presence? These are all qualities that are to a very large extent innate and decreed prior to birth. They do not necessarily reflect a person's effort or the degree to which he has maximized his potential.
Reb Chaim gives an astounding answer: In truth, there is only one requirement for receiving the Divine Presence – humility. The other three are merely means of measuring the degree of humility, as if to say, even were he rich or brilliant or a possessor of great physical strength, his humility would remain fully intact.
And that is what Mishnah in Pirkei Avos is telling us. "Who is wise? One who learns from every man." In other words, one who realizes that no matter how bright he may be there are still things that someone much less gifted can teach him retains the requisite humility. "Who is a mighty man? One who conquers his desires." The strong man who recognizes that his strength is as nothing compared to one who maintains control of his desires shows his essential anivus.
What is the essence of anivus that vests those who possess it with such power? The anav never measures himself vis-à-vis anyone else, but only against the potential with which Hashem favored him. The Chazon Ish surely knew that there were few who pushed themselves to overcome tiredness and physical weakness as he did. But that did not make him great in his eyes. He probably told himself something along the lines of: "Anyone capable of deriving the same geshmak in learning that I do would be able to drive himself as hard or even harder."
Because he does not measure himself against anyone else, no one else can threaten the anav. Someone else's success can take nothing away from him because it is irrelevant. He is no man's competitor. And because he is not threatened by others, and therefore does not erect barriers between himself and others, neither does he threaten anyone else. That lack of boundaries allows him to expand and encompass others within his ambit. His "I" includes a multitude of others because others can never become enemies whom one must fear.
A second source of the attraction of a great talmid chacham who retains his humility is that he is the purest embodiment of the Torah itself. The Torah shines forth from him. Such talmidei chachamin are enveloped in a glow; their smile casts light in all directions. Two weeks ago, we read of Korach's rebellion. Had Korach's claim – "all the People are holy" – been totally without foundation, then the Torah would not have included it. And had he not been a wise man, he would have been unworthy to have been a bar plugta of Moshe Rabbeinu.
So what misled him. His eye, say Chazal: He saw that he would have great offspring and therefore reasoned that he would prevail. A variety of Chassidic masters explain the betrayal by his eye (singular) with reference to a din brought in Chagiga (2a): One who is blind in one eye is absolved of the obligation of aliyas haregel (coming up to Jerusalem for the three pilgrammage festivals).
Every person, the Chassidic masters explain, requires two eyes. The first is for perceiving the glory of Hashem; the second, is for reflecting on one's own insignificance in relation to Hashem. The greater the infusion of wisdom – the first eye – the greater should be one's humility – the second eye. But if the wisdom from recognizing Hashem's glory is not balanced by the corrective of the second eye – the recognition of one's lowliness -- it would be better that the person not come to Jerusalem at all and experience Hashem's glory. Korach's single eye betrayed him by causing him to take pride in his wisdom alone, without any counterbalancing humility.
By diminishing himself, the anav creates more and more room for the Torah to enter him and permeate his entire being. And when that happens, the Torah shines forth. Korach lack of humility rendered him unfit for the transmission of the Torah. That could only come through Moshe Rabbeinu, who was the most modest of all men.
"How foolish are those who stand before a sefer Torah but not before a great Torah scholar" (Makkos 22b) The great talmid chacham who has made himself a pure vessel for receipt of the Torah is a walking sefer Torah. That is the awe we experience in his presence.
Admitting we don't know
Rabbi Noach Orlowek offered me a good piece of advice recently: Neither a rav nor a doctor has to be the greatest expert in the world, as long as he possesses one quality: the ability to say "I don't know.
That advice put me in mind of a story I heard recently from Rabbi Michel Shurkin. The story of the miraculous flight of the Mirrer Yeshiva across the former USSR to Japan and from there to Shanghai is well known. Less well known is the sharp debate that went on in Mirrer Yeshiva before the yeshiva set forth.
That debate pitted perhaps the two most renowned yeshiva bochurim in pre-War Europe against one another. Rabbi Leib Mallin argued for attempting to use the visas that had been obtained through various righteous gentiles acting as counsels in Kovno. Against him, Rabbi Yonah Karpilov, the Yonas Elem, argued that Stalin was a brutal murderer and an anti-Semite, and they would end up spending the rest of their lives in a Soviet gulag at best.
The two giants presented their arguments to the Brisker Rav, and then turned to the Brisker Rav for his decision. So compelling, however, had each proponent been that the Brisker Rav could only respond: "I don't know." That "I don't know," Rabbi Shurkin commented to me, is as impressive as many of the stories of the Brisker Rav's uncanny insights.
But if the Brisker Rav felt he had no choice, even in a situation of life and death for hundreds, but to admit having no clarity, how much more so must we be careful never to pretend to have greater insight or knowledge than we do.
Leave it to the Experts
At the heart of global warming alarmism is the claim that the impending catastrophe is so great that we can no longer rely on normal democratic processes and must turn matters over to experts. The experience of Europe, however, suggests that expert rule comes at a high cost.
European Union law mandates that countries cut the carbon dioxide emissions to 80% of their 1990 levels by 2020. The cost of doing so, according to a 2010 study of the European Commssion, will be over $66 billion dollars a year in increased energy prices. The United Kingdom, for instance, is building an offshore wind farm that is projected to cost $140 billion dollars -- twenty times what it would have cost to produce the same amount of energy by conventional sources. By 2016, according to a government commissioned report, 43% of households in England may be spending more than 10% of their income on energy bills.
A 2009 Spanish study found that energy prices are 17% above the European average, due in large part to a fivefold jump in the subsidies for renewables. The same study estimated that the above average fuel prices cost Spain 110,000 jobs.
Fritz Vahrenholt, a former hero of the German environmental movement, accused the movement of "destroying the foundations of our prosperity," by threatening existence of the German automotive industry, along with the steel, copper, and chemical sectors because of rising energy costs.
Sadly, all Europe's self-inflicted costs will likely have no net impact on emissions. The jobs shipped from Europe's energy-intensive industries will go instead to workers in developing countries that have consistently refused to commit to CO2 reduction quotas.
All the European subsidies of renewable energy and taxes on hydrocarbon energy sources have failed to reduce C02 emissions. But ironically the widespread use of fracking in the United States has dramatically increased the supply of natural gas – the cleanest hydrocarbon energy source. The result has been a significant reduction in C02 emissions, despite the near total refusal of Congress to address global warming concerns.
The Europeans, however, are not interested in cheap and plentiful hydrocarbon energy sources, even if they are low in carbon dioxide emissions. Europe has huge shale gas resources of the type exploited by fracking. And yet Germany has imposed a moratorium on shale-gas exploration.
Commonsense is apparently not an expert virtue.
Related Topics: American Government & Politics, Intellectuals, Jewish Ethics, Personalities
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