Va'eira (Exodus 6:2-9:35 )
Humility is a very good trait. However, true humility doesn't require us to deny our strengths and abilities. Rather, we should recognize and use our abilities but without letting them go to our heads and make us conceited.
Moses was the most humble and non-conceited person who ever lived. Yet, when God told him that he was the most qualified person to lead the Jewish people and rescue them from Egyptian slavery, Moses didn't let his great humility stop him from stepping up and taking the lead. We can learn from him how to be humble and strong at the same time.
In our story a kid discovers that being humble doesn't mean hiding her talents.
"A LEG TO STAND ON"
Sue Jacobs heard her classmate crying out in pain and wasn't sure what to do...
Sue was having a great time during an all-day hike she was on with the school nature club. Alice Waters, the club president, and some of the other more dynamic club members, made a point of loudly identifying each species they saw and stopping from time to time to make fiery speeches about how terrible it was to pollute.
Sue was a naturally quiet, humble kind of kid and was happy just communing with nature and enjoying the beauty of the forest. As far as she was concerned, just experiencing the magic harmony of God's creation was a more convincing reason not to pollute it than a hundred classes or speeches.
They were almost out of the woods when tragedy struck. Linda Paley, one of the kids in the group, was crossing a stream when the weight of her pack caused her to slip and fall hard. Fortunately, she had nearly crossed and didn't fall in the cold water, but her leg wedged between two rocks and from the way she landed, Sue, who had passed an EMT course and earned a certificate in first aid, could tell right away that she had broken her leg.
Sue started going down to the stream to help, when she felt a strong arm pushing her back. "Everyone just stay where they are! I'll take care of the situation," Alice stated confidently. Before Sue could even mention to her about her first aid training, the kid had jumped down to the crying girl.
Maybe she knows first aid too, thought Sue. But she was shocked to see that instead of splinting the leg like she should have, Alice was trying to make the girl walk on it!
"Come on Linda. We're almost back to the van. I'm sure you can tough it out," Alice said.
Sue knew that making someone walk on a fracture like that was the worst thing to do, but Alice seemed so sure of herself.
"Oww!" Linda took a step and cried out in pain.
"Come on, it's just a bruise. You can do it!" Alice insisted.
By now Sue was in a real quandary. It just wasn't her style to speak up and take charge - she didn't want to seem like a know-it-all - but how could she watch the poor kid suffer like that? Maybe I'll make a couple of suggestions...
She went over to Alice, who was still trying to get the kid to walk. "Um, Alice," said Sue softly, "you know I really think maybe it would be better to..."
"Didn't I tell you to stay off to the side!?" said Alice sharply. "Okay Linda, just another couple steps and I'm sure you'll feel better."
Sue didn't know what to do. She knew what Alice was doing could really cause Linda a more serious injury, but who was she to insist, especially after Alice told her to stay out of it?
Linda cried out again in pain. Sue tapped Alice on the back. "Alice, you know, I think she really shouldn't walk on that leg. It could injure..."
Alice spun around, eyes blazing. "Are you trying to tell me I don't know what I'm doing and you know better?"
Sue took a deep breath. She hated confrontations but there was no way she could let Linda suffer when she knew how to prevent it.
"Alice, I am a trained and experienced EMT and I insist you let me treat her," Sue said with surprising strength and confidence. "I am certain she has sustained a fracture and we must splint and elevate that leg right away!"
Alice's face was red with anger, but when she saw that Sue really knew what she was talking about and wasn't going to back down, the girl simply nodded her head and stepped out of the way.
Sue quickly splinted Linda's leg with a straight tree branch and, together with another kid, they supported her on their shoulders and helped her hobble on her one good leg until they got to the ranger station at the end of the trail.
Sure enough, the medic told them Linda had broken her leg just as Sue thought and that splinting it and not walking on it probably saved the kid from getting an operation.
Sue learned from that day on that being humble didn't mean being afraid of speak up and using her talents.
Q. How did Sue feel at first about speaking up to Alice and telling her what the hurt girl needed?
A. She felt shy and that speaking up would be conceited.
Q. How did she feel in the end?
A. She saw that by not speaking up she was letting the girl get more hurt and realized that it wasn't conceited to speak up and say that she knew first aid.
Q. What life lesson did Sue learn that day?
A. Sue valued being humble and not showing off her knowledge or abilities. However, she discovered that there is nothing wrong or non-humble about pointing out or using the talents we have when there is a good reason to do so.
Q. How can a person with special qualities (i.e. super smart, good-looking, athletic etc.) recognize what he has but still stay humble and not let it go to his head?
A. The key is to realize that whatever we have is really a gift from God. Even the things it seems we earned, we only have because God gave us the health and abilities to do so. When we have this firmly in mind we can freely use and enjoy our God-given abilities and at the same time remain humble.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Are we doing anything wrong by not using our talents and abilities as long as we are not harming anyone?
A. When we don't use our abilities we are harming someone - ourselves. The abilities God gave us are those we need to accomplish in life what we need for our best happiness and we will only feel truly fulfilled when we use the abilities He gave us. In a deeper sense, when we don't use our abilities, we also harm the world. Each of us is a 'piece' in God's cosmic puzzle needed to better the world. We play our cosmic role when we discover our abilities and channel them in a positive way that is consistent with our values.
Q. Our sages teach that 'everything is from God except for the recognition of God in our lives.' How do you understand this statement and how does it affect our level of humility?
A. God has put us in the world with our particular life situation - with our looks, our family, our strengths and weaknesses, etc. All of these form the setting or backdrop for our lives and in the ultimate sense are not something we control. What is in our control is to what degree we are going to remember and acknowledge that these things are from God, that He has given them to us for our best good and He wants us to choose to use them in the most positive way we can. Forgetting this can cause us to become conceited and feel we are better than someone else. But remembering this will keep us humble no matter how much we achieve.