You Know’s Who’s Modest? Me.By Rabbi Jack Abramowitz
Moshe and the elders returned to the camp. A strong wind started blowing in quail from the sea. The quail were weakened by the time they reached the camp, so they were flying a mere two cubits over the ground. (That could be as little as three feet – certainly easy enough to catch.) Quail surrounded the camp the distance of a day’s travel in every direction. There was certainly no imminent shortage of quail. The people stockpiled a ridiculous amount of quail. Quail quail quail. Let’s say quail again: quail. Seriously, there was a LOT of quail.
The people were still gorging themselves on quail when they started to die. G-d struck them with a plague and the place came to be known as Kivros HaTaavah, “Graves of the Craving.”
After this incident, the Jews relocated to a place called Chatzeiros, where they would remain for a good long while.
Moshe’s siblings, Miriam and Aharon, complained about Moshe’s wife. (The exact nature of the complaint is unstated, but it is suggested by the text that they criticized Moshe for neglecting his conjugal duties. See Rashi on 12:1.) “We’re prophets, too,” they said, “but we don’t neglect our spouses.” (At this point, the Torah informs us that Moshe was the humblest person on the face of the Earth. We’ll come back to that.)
G-d summoned all three of the siblings to the Mishkan. “Get this straight,” He told Miriam and Aharon, “you two are NOT like Moshe. I speak to all My messengers in dreams and visions. Only Moshe gets to speak to Me metaphorically ‘face to face,’ like you would with another human being. If I were you, I’d think twice before speaking against Moshe.”
After this, Miriam (the instigator) was stricken with tzaraas, the standard punishment for gossip and slander. (Refer back to parshas Metzora.) Aharon begged Moshe to intercede. Moshe uttered a heartfelt but concise prayer (“G-d, please heal her now”), which was refused.
“If her father bawled her out publicly,” G-d asked, “wouldn’t she hide herself in shame? Let her leave the camp for a week, then she can return.”
The camp didn’t travel while Miriam was in her seclusion. After she returned to the camp, they packed up and traveled to Paran.
Now, as to the matter of Moshe’s humility, the obvious question is: How is that possible? Didn’t Moshe know that G-d selected him to work miracles in Egypt? That he spent forty days and nights with G-d on Mount Sinai – twice? That he, and he alone, spoke with G-d “face to face?” Wouldn’t Moshe have to be disingenuous to be humble in the face of all that?
Not at all. Moshe realized that all that came from G-d. Moshe was a human being and he was well aware of both his strengths and his flaws. He wasn’t too big to take advice from his father-in-law Yisro or to let Aharon have the last word in a disagreement when Aharon was in the right. In short, Moshe’s special relationship with G-d didn’t make him think he was anything special or better than everyone else. Just the opposite! As we see from the incident with Eldad and Meidad, Moshe sincerely wished that everyone could experience what he did.
We all have our own unique talents and strengths, whether in music, sports, poetry or Torah scholarship. It’s not immodest to know that you’re a talented painter or a better-than-average writer. It’s only a matter of ego if a person thinks that their talents somehow make them better than others, rather than recognizing them as gifts from G-d.