A young man came to his rabbi looking for a wife. The rabbi arranged for the young man to meet a several fine young woman as potential matches, but he was not satisfied. In each of the women he immediately found a fault that made her undesirable.”
“I think you need to focus on becoming more humble,” the rabbi counseled the young lad. “Perhaps then you will be more ready to find your match.”
So the young man engrossed himself in concentrated learning and prayer in order to become more humble. After several months, he came back to the rabbi for potential matched. The rabbi immediately suggested one of the young women that the young man had previously rejected.
The young man was taken aback. “If she wasn’t good enough for me before, how could she be good enough for me now that I have become so humble!?”
If we pay attention, the natural world can teach us the most profound lessons in life. Look at the earth at your feet (you might have to go outside for this one). The dust of the earth is perhaps the lowliest element within all of creation. It is hardly valued. It is trampled on, taken for granted, and altogether disregarded, especially in our increasingly urbanized existence. But one thing is for certain: The earth is the source of life. Everything that lives depends on the nurturing power of the earth to feed it.
This is the way humility operates. On the one hand, it is the subjugation of the ego by the spirit, a feeling of intense meekness betrayed by an unassuming nature. On the other hand, humility is, in a more metaphysical sense, the source of all life. Through humility we can truly love, because only a love stemming from humility can be truly unconditional. Through humility we can experience pure joy without the ego’s interference. With humility as the foundation, the recognition that everything comes from Above, the individual can appreciate life and accomplish more with the gifts that she or he is given.
This is, perhaps, the greatest challenge of attaining humility. To admit your greatness without letting it get to your head. Because it’s easy to ignore who you are, and assume the identity of some alter ego that is more humble, or, alternatively, to deny the importance of being humble altogether and coast through life completely self-absorbed.
In both cases, you miss the point. The challenge is to be yourself and to be humble; to recognize that you are unique (just like everyone else) and acknowledge the Source of that uniqueness. Then the greatness you have is not just a privilege that you can exploit as you see fit, but a responsibility — a mission — that is uniquely yours to fulfill.
This is why the Torah was given on Mount Sinai, the lowest of mountains. The Torah is, among other things, the tool with which we unite the spirit and the matter of our lives. The starting point of this quest must be humility: You are a mountain of an individual, but because your special stature comes from Above, you are a small mountain — but a mountain nonetheless. And it is humility that allows us to appreciate the true nature of our qualities and talents, and those of others, and utilize them for their proper purpose.