True humility is realizing that you are an incredibly gifted and talented person. But only because God made you that way. Everything you are, your looks, intelligence, wealth and success, are all gifts from God. You can only take credit for the effort you put into achieving your accomplishments. Success from those efforts comes only from God. There are many people who put in more effort and are more intelligent, yet did not succeed. God alone determines who will succeed and when.
Moses is described by the Torah as both the humblest of men (Numbers 12:3) and the greatest of prophets (Deuteronomy 34:10). Moses wrote those words about himself (at God’s command)! This is no contradiction. While Moses realized he was the greatest prophet, he also realized that it was God who made him that way to teach God’s Torah.
How do you know how humble you are?
Here are signs of humility (generally speaking, the more signs you exhibit, the more humble you are): You treat everyone well and do not differentiate between people. You are slow to anger and quick to forgive. You admit when you were wrong and apologize when you caused distress. You give serious consideration to constructive criticism, without becoming overly defensive. You solicit the opinions of others and ask for their advice and feedback. You avoid honor and prefer to keep a low profile (unless it would advance a worthy cause). You dress modestly and not in a manner which shouts, “Look at me!” You take the initiative to make peace with someone, even when you think they are at fault. You are accommodating, flexible and easy to work with. You are generous and look for ways to help others.
Here are six ways to increase your humility:
1. Utilize personal challenges and troublesome current events. Consider that even with all that we have tried to resolve our difficulties, we still struggle with them, e.g., health, financial and relationship issues, and terror attacks, both in Israel and worldwide. This demonstrates how desperately we need God’s assistance; only He can help us overcome our challenges. Because of this, turn to Him in prayer and ask Him to bless our efforts with success.
2. Acknowledge your failings. You are no better than anyone else; we all have weaknesses. Any advantage you have over another is a gift from God. As soon as you start to feel superior to someone, think of how puny you are compared to God, and how you are full of flaws, failings and frailties.
3. Use humble self-talk. Say daily, “Everything I am and have accomplished is due to the help of my Creator. My successes and achievements come only from Him. I am completely dependent on Him. I cannot even get up in the morning without His help. He is my strength and with Him, I can do anything. Without Him, I can do nothing and would be totally helpless. In truth, without God constantly infusing me with life, I would be nothing; I wouldn’t even exist.”
4. Humble yourself before worthy rabbis and rebbetzins. Treat them with the utmost deference, solicitude and respect. Besides being the appropriate way to act, this will make you more receptive to their wisdom and increase your humility.
5. Tune into God’s presence which surrounds you always. Before prayer and when you are tempted to do something you know is wrong and against God’s will, say to Him, “God, I humble myself before You.” It is helpful to say this while imagining you are on your knees with outstretched arms palms up, and head bowed. King Solomon prayed in a similar posture of submission before God when he dedicated the First Temple (I Kings 8:54).
6. Ask God for humility. Like any achievement in life, humility is ultimately a gift from God. Ask Him to grant you an awareness of your utter dependence on Him and of His supreme exaltedness. Keep asking Him for humility, until your prayers are answered.
For additional ways to deepen your humility, see “Surrendering to God: 3 steps to transcend your ego” and Adversity + Humility + Acceptance = Transcendence.” Also see the sections on humility in the classics, The Path of the Just by Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto and Duties of the Heart by Rabbeinu Bachya.
Cultivating humility is an antidote to many bad character traits. Here are examples of the mindsets of humble people which help them avoid the following three bad character traits:
“Who am I to criticize and find fault with others? Am I perfect and never do anything wrong? Wouldn’t I possibly make the same mistake if I was in a similar situation? Do I really have to bluntly point out people’s mistakes? What is a more sensitive way of helping them improve?”
Being inconsiderate or harming others:
“Who am I to cause others distress? I have no right. I’m no better than them. Without warning, the tables could be turned and I could be at their mercy, pleading for their assistance. In addition, I exist only by the grace of God. How dare I go against His command and harm His other children?”
Being judgmental and condescending:
“Who am I to pass judgement on others? Maybe there is some merit to their behavior/viewpoint or at least they think there is. Who am I to look down on others? God could have created me to be in their situation. Perhaps in some ways they are more righteous than I am.”
Humility leads to faith, acceptance and gratitude, important pillars of spiritual and emotional health.
“I don’t understand how this could possibly be for my benefit. But what do I know? God knows best and I have faith that He is guiding my life for my highest good.”
“How can I know better than my Creator what I truly need? I accept that whatever happens to me is for my eternal benefit.”
“I’m not entitled to anything; nothing is coming to me. I’m grateful to God for whatever He gives me. I show my appreciation to Him, by using His gifts in permitted ways and by using them to help others. I realize that with ability, comes responsibility.”
Arrogant people think, “It’s all about me.” But when we are humble, we realize, “It’s all about us” – no one is better than the other; we look out for each other, just like we look out for ourselves. When we are humbler still, we build on the previous level and realize, “It’s all about God’ – all that truly exists is God; everything else exists within Him, as His creations. From this heightened level of awareness flows faith, acceptance and gratitude, a sense of being in touch with our true essence and one with our Creator.
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