OU Torah Insights ProjectParashat Vayeishev
When Yosefs brothers throw him into a dangerous pit, the Torah records: "And Reuven heard, and he saved him from their hands."
"If Reuven had known that Hashem would write [this verse] concerning him," the Midrash observes, he would have done much more. "He would have carried Yosef on his shoulder back to his father."
Why is this so? Is it possible that Reuven would have been galvanized by an exalted place in history? Unthinkable, Yalkut Yehudah insists. "It would be impossible to say that tzaddikim such as these were motivated by considerations of honor".
The Midrashs assesment of Reuven must be viewed in the proper light.
Undoubtedly, Reuven, like the classic tzaddikim of Klal Yisroel, had within him a profound sense of humility. Good character requires a firm sense of humility. One must always keep in mind that "man does, but Hashem accomplishes," in the words of Rav Yisroel Salanter z"tl.
Reuven surely understood that his capacities, his talents, his strengths were the designs of Hashem. Had he realized that Hashem considered him Yosefs savior, he would have felt a sublime sense of spiritual satisfactionand he would have gone further to enhance his estimation in G-dsnot historyseyes.
Sometimes people confuse this all-important trait of humility with insignificance. One must always remember how important he is and how significant all his thoughts, statements and actions are. To this end, our Sages say that a person is obligated to declare, "The world was created for me."
This balance between humility and pride, between self-effacement and self-esteem is critical to the fine-tuned Torah Jew. He must never overestimate himself, yet never underestimate his significance.
We find this precise balance in some of the statements ascribed to Rav Moshe Feinstein, z"tl.
It is reported that Rav Moshes wife once urged him to sleep later than his customary 4 am rising. He responded that if he got up any later, his Torah learning would suffer and he would remain ignorant. This statement came at a point in his life when he had the entire worlds respect as a gadol hador, a leader of the generation.
Rav Moshe understood that even he needed to strive continually, and that no success comes automatically.
Yet, at the same time, Rav Moshe recognized the significance of his personal Torah study. He knew the meaning of the world having been created for himand he urged others to recognize this truth and act upon it.
The first man was called Adam, from the root adamah, meaning ground. Just as the ground we live upon is the basis for life and the medium for development, so too, man is the essence of potential, says Rabbi Yaakov Moshe Charlap z"tl.
Our sense of significance is meant to fuel our growth and development, while our sense of humility guides us in a constructive path. With the proper balance, Adam emerges as an ish, a man, a credit to himself and to his Creator.
Rabbi Michael Fine
Rabbi Fine is rabbi of Congregation Machzikeh Hadas in Scranton, Pennsylvania.
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