The third portion of the book of Numbers contains a wide variety of issues. We read about instructions for the lamp stands, the Levites, a recounting of the Passover and a not unfamiliar theme of the Israelites lack of faith as well as a small rebellion against the leadership of Moses. No, it was not easy leading the multitude. This last scenario is played out in Numbers 12. In that chapter, in verse 2, as voices of discontent are raised, Moses is described as “a very humble man” (Numbers 12:3) The Hebrew word used is the word “anav”: ayin, nun and vov. This forms the basis of the word “anavah” or humility. For those of you who are studying Mussar, you know this concept well.
Humility stands in a place between self worship and totla lack of self respect and esteem. It is a quality that is in short supply in our techno, twitter, “selfi” driven age. Moses is pictured as this model man. The challenge of living with this healthy self esteem is often presented to us as we grow older. Maybe some of us come to understand that priotities change or that having everything revolve around our own ego gratification is really nothing more than a type of idolatry. Indeed it is rare to find such a person today who represents this idea of “anavah”. One traditional resource describes this attribute as :”A small deed done in humility is a thousand times more acceptable to God than a great deed done in pride” (Orchot Tzaddikim)
We lost one such man this week in our community. He was also a close friend. Steve Burkett was such a person who embodied this attribute of humility. He was a successful judge and Jewish communal activist. His person was one that embodied that sense of humility. He was always aware of who he was and where he came from and the desire to give back to the world was a passion that he lived. For Steve, it was the “doing” of the deed that mattered most. He died way too young at 65. He was a man who represented that “anavah” to the world and to his family and he will be greatly missed. May his life remain a symbol of blessing.
Rabbi Richard F Address, D.Min
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, is the Founder and Director of www.jewishsacredaging.com. Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a Regional Director and then, beginning in 1997, as Founder and Director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, NJ while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ from 2011-2014.