The Meaning of Humility


Dear Rabbi,

Does “being humble” mean being meek, weak, inadequate and fragile? I ask this because that’s how it seems people use it in everyday speech nowadays.

Thank you



  1. No, not at all. Being humble means being completely aware of your greatness and achievements but also being aware of the fact that whatever you have achieved you did so because God gave you the abilities and the strength to be able to do it. That means that a person who is an extremely successful businessman, for example, should not carry himself as if he is more important than others simply because he is successful. He must internalize the fact that his success lies with the fact that God gave him that success and how he can best use it. I once heard an extremely successful businessman (he counts his wealth in hundreds of millions of dollars!) say that he doesn’t look at himself as being very good at business it is just that God put him in the right places at the right times.

    There’s a famous question: How could Moses write that he himself was “the most humble person on the face of the earth?” (Numbers 12:3) Isn’t that itself a contradiction to being truly humble?

    I like to answer this question with a story. When the practice of ritual slaughter was under attack in Great Britain, the famed Rabbi Yechezkel Abramsky was called to court in its defense.

    The judge read from the deposition which lay before him: “Rabbi Abramsky,” said the judge, “it says here that you are the foremost authority of Jewish Law in the British Empire. Is that true?”

    “That is true, your honor.”

    “And that you are the most eloquent spokesman for Jewish Law in the British Empire?”

    “That is also true, your honor.”

    “It also says here that you are the most senior rabbi in the British Empire. Is that correct?”

    “That is correct, your Honor.”

    Taken aback by the Rabbi’s straight-forward responses, the judge said, “Rabbi Abramsky, how do you resolve your answers with the Talmudic teachings of humility?”

    “It is indeed a problem, your honor,” said the Rabbi. “But I’m under oath.” Moses was commanded by God to write that he was the most humble person, so he had no choice but to write it.

    Know ing your own greatness is no contradiction to humility. On the contrary, ultimate humility is achieved by a person who excels in good attributes but takes no credit for his greatness. He realizes that all his achievements come from God, and therefore he isn’t conceited or self-congratulatory.

    Best wishes from the Team