Posted by: gruvenreuven | March 23, 2009

Exceedingly humble

The Rebbe

The Rebbe

A painting appeared in our Shul today. It was an amateur attempt to capture the likeness of the Lubavitch Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson. Although that being said, the picture didn’t quite look like him. “Maybe it’s the Previous Rebbe”, my friend said. “Nah”, I said, “I think it looks like the Rebbe did in the 50’s. Either case it certainly is better then any picture I could dream of painting”. “I Know”, said my friend, “It’s Shmuel Munkes!”.

Ah, Shmuel Munkes, one of my favorite Chassids of the first Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, aka “The Alter Rebbe”. Shmuel Munkes was known for his wit and “Chassidic pranks”.

One of my favorite Shmuel Munkes stories centered around “Humility”, which also happens to be a theme in this week’s Parsha Vayikra. This morning in Shul, I was lucky enough to snag the 3rd Aliyah. As such, I got the privilege of witnessing first hand the Small Alef in the first word of the parsha, in the word “Vayikra”, ‘And He (G-d) called (to Moses).’.

There is a story that the Tzemach Tzedek (3rd Luvaitcher Rebbe) as a small boy asked his Grandfather the Alter Rebbe why the Alef was physically written small in the sefer Torah for this word. We learn that this is because Moshe was exceedingly humble.

A truly humble person realizes two things: He realizes that every talent and gift he has, was given to him by G-d, and he realizes that if others had been given the exact same talents and gifts as he, they may have accomplished more.

This explains the passage, “Moses was exceedingly humble, more than any person on the face of the earth (Numbers 12:3). “Exceedingly humble” means he realized that all his success was from G-d. “More than any person” means he acknowledged that if others had been given the same gifts and conditions, they could have accomplished more.

Getting back to our friend Shmuel Munkes, he knew all about the meaning of what it meant to be humble. He also know how to instill Humility in folks that were shall we say “less then so”.

You see there was time in the 1800’s when a travelling Magid (Preacher) came to town. The entire population of the town had gathered to hear the sermon of the “travelling preacher.” The listeners were simple folk, with little knowledge of the Torah, but they all followed the Torah way as much as they could. The preacher filled their ears with fire and brimstone, and chastised them for their many sins. “You are far from any reach of heaven, not only that, You put our Torah sages to shame.” And on he went, without letting up. Eyes started to swelter and tears began flowing freely on all those present. At the end, the preacher rubbed his hands together in satisfaction. “That was a good sermon,” he said to himself.

Rabbi Shmuel Munkes, invited the preacher to stay overnight at his house. After the evening meal, he was given a room, and the preacher began preparing for bed. Suddenly, the door to the room opened, and Rabbi Shmuel burst in brandishing his hallaf (schocket knife). Reb Shmuel told the startled preacher, “Make your final confession now, for you will not leave this room alive!” The preacher’s face went white from shock: “Why? What have I done?”

“Listen,” Reb Shmuel said, “We have a custom in this town to visit the graves of righteous people before Rosh Chodesh. However, since we do not have any local graves of righteous men here, we are forced to travel to faraway places. And now, the Almighty has fortunately brought you to us, a tzadik at last. This is a great opportunity to have our own grave for our prayers. Now please hurry and make your final confession, I do not have much time.”

No amount of begging by the travelling preacher could persuade Reb Shmuel to change his mind. When the preacher saw that there was no other way to change Reb Shmuel’s mind, the preacher said: “You think I am so righteous? Just a few years ago I committed the following terrible sin!” And he gave Reb Shmuel the details. But Reb Shmuel was not to be swayed. “So what,” Reb Shmuel replied. “Compared to our sins here, you are still completely righteous.” So the travelling preacher continued listing his many sins, one at a time, and finally said, “You can see that I am completely evil, and you will have no benefit whatsoever from my grave.”

And Reb Shmuel finally “gave in.” He said, “If so, we see that you have a long history of evil. Where then did you get the nerve to break the hearts of these pure and simple Jews, who are all children of the Almighty?”

This lesson this is exactly what the small Alef in Vayikra teaches us… To realize all of our good qualities are G-d-given. And as they are G-d given, we in a sense don’t have any greatness of our own, (and such, neither does anyone else.) But Moshe, our greatest teacher of all time took was deemed Humble because he saw it a bit different. From Moshe’s view He didn’t have any greatness of his own, but OTHERS did have greatness. That is why Moshe was deemed “exceedingly humble”, because he saw greatness in other people.

So my question to you is… What do you think of the painted picture?


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