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Key Concepts of Mishlei 15-33 (Humility)
In creating man, Hashem made him superior to all other creatures. In so doing He presented man with a great challenge — not to let the sense of superiority go to his head. When a person feels superior he may unthinkingly believe he is justified in treating other people badly. He may even fail to appreciate the debt of gratitude he owes his Creator and may feel justified in the violating the laws of morality which the Creator has established as a condition for ultimate human survival.
Mishlei addresses this challenge and in a few short words presents a recipe for dealing with it. The key ingredient in this recipe is humility.
The sequence begins with yiras Hashem, the fear of G-d. This is the lesson taught to us by Avraham Avinu. If man fails to recognize his insignificance in the universe relatively to the one and only Universal Power, he cannot expect to find true humility in dealing with other people.
Once man learns to respect the power and the will of his Creator he can begin to acquire the wisdom that Hashem has granted to mankind. That means he must learn to suppress his own desires and selfishness whenever they are in conflict with the laws of justice and kindness that are implied by Hashem’s wisdom.
Man can then apply the lessons of unselfishness and humility to his dealings with other people. By giving another person the benefit of the doubt, he grows to love his fellow man and avoids the kinds of conflict that result in unethical behavior.
This sequence of steps in character development leads a person to the honor and of respect of his family and fellow human beings. They see him as an unthreatening servant of Hashem who can be fully trusted to always do what is right. Thus, they are eager to treat him as a role model to guide their own way through life.
(לג) יִרְאַת ה‘ מוּסַר חָכְמָה וְלִפְנֵי כָבוֹד עֲנָוָה:
Fear of Hashem is the discipline of wisdom, and humility precedes honor.
This proverb divides the development of humility into two parts. The first part begins with the fear of Hashem, which is described as a discipline or mussar that enables a person to acquire the wisdom of the Torah. Once an individual has learned to see himself as a humble servant of Hashem, he is ready to apply that submissiveness to his relationships with other people. This attitude draws the goodwill of family and neighbors so that this worthy individual is loved and honored by all good people.
(לג) יִרְאַת ה‘ מוּסַר חָכְמָה
וְלִפְנֵי כָבוֹד עֲנָוָה:
Fear of Hashem — יִרְאַת ה‘ is the discipline — מוּסַר that leads to wisdom — חָכְמָה , and humility precedes honor — וְלִפְנֵי כָבוֹד עֲנָוָה .
A series of insights illuminating this proverb are presented below. The numbers identifying the insights refer to the listing of sources at the end of the segment.
(1) The fear of Hashem (yiras Hashem) is an important goal in its own right. It is also a means (a mussar) through which a person can overcome his develop the discipline needed to achieve wisdom. Similarly the practice of humility is an important middah (character trait) in its own right. It is also a step that leads to honor and respect.
(2) The relationship between wisdom and yiras Hashem also works in reverse. Through the discipline inherent in wisdom a person can develop his character to achieve yiras Hashem. Yiras Hashem is the ultimate goal, as it says, “What does Hashem, your G-d, ask of you? Only to fear Hashem” (Devarim 10:12). Also it says in Avos (3, 17), “If there is no wisdomthare is o yirah.”
(3) Another meaning of כָּבוֹד is perfection in the development of character. Such perfection is preceded by humility which is the most important of the middos.
(4) Before being worthy of receiving honor one must acknowledge his limitations in not achieving all his potential. Without this acknowledgment, honor will only add to self-delusion, as well as to one’s deluding others.
(5) Another view is that humility is even greater than yiras Hashem. According to this view, the fear of Hashem prepares us to reach humility, which is a stage in preparing a person for the eternal honor of the afterlife in the World to Come. Nevertheless, the Torah constantly exhorts us to fear Hashem rather than teach us the ethics of humility. In other words, the Torah concentrates on the initial preparations from which the final goals ultimately develop.
The primary sources used for the additional insights illuminating this segment are listed below.
(1) – מצודות, מלבי”ם
(2) – רבינו יונה, אבן יחייא
(3) – המאירי
(4) -דעת סופרים