The Humble Mountain

Parashat B’har- B’chukotai, Leviticus 25:1-27:34

Rabbi Isaac S. Roussel, Congregation Zera Avraham

Our parasha this week opens with God speaking to Moses from Mount Sinai. A midrash speaks of three mountains, Tabor, Carmel, and Sinai, vying to be the one from which God would reveal the Torah. God chooses Sinai because it is the lowliest of the three and he wanted to teach Israel humility. One could ask, though, that if God wanted to teach us humility, why didn’t he just give the Torah in a valley instead? The answer that I would propose is that this reflects our nature. Humans are indeed beings of great power. We can mold and shape the world around us in a way that the animals cannot. We also have the power to do great evil and good with our speech and actions. Each of us is indeed a great mountain, but we must learn humility to be of service to others.

This reflects the nature of God, in whose image we are made. He is the Ultimate One of great power, and yet he exercises great humility to give us space to become his partners in the unfolding of creation. Our free will is a gift that an omnipotent and yet humble God bestows upon us.  Another midrash states that God showed his humility when he said to the angels, “Let us make man in our own image.” Rashi says that since humans looked like angels, they could have been jealous that such beings lived on the earth. Therefore, God consulted the angels to include them in the process of creation, which he did not need to do. It was an act of humility for the sake of others.

Messiah Yeshua reflects this attribute of his Father. He repeatedly states that he only does what his Father tells him to do. And he lives as a servant for others, rather than lording it over them. He makes space and takes concern for the poor, weak, sick, and disenfranchised. This is expressed most fully in a passage from Philippians that we read in our congregation as part of the Aleinu. It says,

Though he was in the form of God, he did not regard equality with God something to be possessed by force. On the contrary, he emptied himself, in that he took the form of a slave by becoming like human beings are. And when he appeared as a human being, he humbled himself still more by becoming obedient even to death—death on a stake as a criminal! Therefore, God raised him to the highest place and gave him the name above every name; that in honor of the name given Yeshua, every knee will bow—in heaven, on earth and under the earth—and every tongue will acknowledge that Yeshua the Messiah is Adonai—to the glory of God the Father. (Phil 2:6-11)

Yeshua is divine, and therefore a “mountain”. But he is a lowly mountain by living and dying as a human being for the sake of the world. In the last verse, you will note that even his exaltation is for the glory of the Father!

As I already noted, we are created in God’s image and therefore are also beings of great power. Through giving both the Torah on that lowly mountain, and Yeshua, the Living Torah, who exemplified a life of humility, God calls us to the same. Just before the passage above, Rav Shaul urges the Philippians, “Do nothing out of rivalry or vanity; but, in humility, regard each other as better than yourselves. Look out for each other’s interests and not just for your own. Let your attitude toward one another be governed by your being in union with the Messiah Yeshua” (Phil 2:3-5, emphasis added).

Mussar teaches us that humility is not total self-debasement. It is instead recognizing that we need to take up an appropriate amount of space. It is a middle path of being the humble mountain. The Talmud states that one who possesses haughtiness of spirit deserves excommunication, and one who does not deserves it as well. This is the middle road of humility. We are called upon by God to live for the sake of others; to be attuned to their needs and wants. This can only be accomplished through our consistent exercise of humility.

May we be cognizant of our great power and yet exercise humility. May we emulate Yeshua Rabbeinu and live a life of devotion to him and the Father by making room for others. May we be like Sinai, a humble mountain!

Stephanie Escalnate