Anava – It’s Bigger Than Me
Parashat Devarim 5780
Anava, what does it really mean? Humility? What is that? – I actually think it is one of the most complex words in the Torah and one of the most important middot that can be attributed to a person, but it is almost impossible to fully understand .
Moshe writes about himself in the Torah that he is the most humble man. Yet we see so many moments in his life that humility doesn’t seem to be at the forefront of his behavior. We see Moshe teeter between what seems like low self esteem and defiant stiff-neckedness. One moment Moshe is telling HaShem he is not the one that can be used to free Am Yisrael from Mitzrayim and the next he is telling HaShem that if Hashem decides to kill Am Yisrael then he, Moshe, refuses to be part of the story. Two extremes, two opposites – two spiritual energies, middot, at odds with one another. Neither one seems to have much to do with Anava.
In the moments when Moshe is displaying personal confidence and even stubbornness, it is most certainly not what we think of as Anava. On the other hand, when he is sheepish and riddled with low self esteem this is also not what we believe to be the proper expression of Anava.
So how is it that Moshe is the depiction of Anava in the Torah? How is he our example, and what is it exactly that we are aiming for when we seek to be people of Anava, humility.
I believe that Anava is really letting go of what we imagine ourselves to be whether gedolei hador, Talmidei chachamim or lowly nebach paupers, insignificant in every way. Anava is surrendering to HaShem, and the deep belief that HaShem will use you as He sees fit when He needs to. Anava is being open to being this vessel. How do we achieve this level?
Moshe was deeply connected to the middot of Netzach and Hod. Netzach is traditionally translated as “eternity”, victory, endurance, the power to keep pushing. It’s distortion can come out as ego, narcissism or stubbornness. Hod is traditionally translated as “splendor”, gratitude, relenting, and the power to be flexible. It’s distortions can come out as low self esteem, quick to quit, giving up, lack of faith. Through the power of these middot he was able to remove himself and allow HaShem to use him as necessary. When we see Moshe telling HaShem that he is not the man to bring the Am out of Mitzrayim we see that he is able to tap deeply into the middah of Hod. He is able to relent about his own limiting beliefs and move forward fully because HaShem displayed belief in him.
Later we see that when he stood before Pharaoh the light of HaShem’s Netzach shined through him. He was like an immovable pillar of faith.
Moshe the Ish Anav, was a man who knew how to get his ego and at times low self esteem out of the way of HaShem’s will and desire to use him. This is what Anava means.
In Mishlei 22:4, it says that the Reward of Anava is Yiras HaShem (עֵקֶב עֲנָוָה, יִרְאַת יְהוָה)
Through Moshe’s great Yirah (fear, awe & wonder) of Hashem, Anava was born. Moshe, had a sense of wonder toward HaShem, he saw HaShem in a way that no other man ever has. This wonder created Anava, which helped Moshe “get out of the way” (bittul) allowing him to become the most humble man that ever lived. We may be able, using this logic, to understand that no other man was used as much as Moshe was used directly by HaShem. Moshe was the ultimate vessel, this is Anava.
As we are able to tap into the strength of the middah Netzach we can break through any wall that stands before us, and with strength of the middah Hod we can come to the realization that we built the wall with our own fear and limiting beliefs. When we relent, the barriers disappear and we are able to be victorious in connecting to HaShem in new ways which will allow HaShem to use us in this world as he intends to. But this all starts and is dependent upon us being able to have true wonder and awe (yirah) of HaShem. This will allow us to get out of the way and have emuna shleimah that Hashem wants to work in and through us in this world.
Ancient of Days, you have known me from before time and have drawn my soul to you from the day I came into this world. You and only You know my purpose here, You and only You know my true strength and potential. As I sit in wonder of Your eternal glory and magnitude please give me the strength to never allow my ego or at other times my low self esteem to get in the way of my purpose. This life is futile without You, this life is empty without the moments of feeling, of being in sync with You, feeling You move through my words, feeling You move through my actions. Please HaShem, let those moments become closer and closer together. Let each one of those moments be a banner in my journey to truly serve You. I am Your servant, I desire You, I desire to serve You without my “self” polluting that service. Please help me to be like Moshe Rebbainu, give me the strength to nullify my ego and weakness and to walk humbly before you.
Good Shabbos ~ Shimon Aaron