True greatness hides itself, before God makes it known
Whether it was the more diminutive Har Sinai or the younger sibling (Yitzchak, Yaakov, Moshe Rabbeinu, etc.), God chooses the m’at.
I mean, look at Yehudah, the progenitor of Mashiach: a middle child.
And Tamar? She comes out of nowhere, has been married twice without ever producing a child (not ideal shidduch material), and is pretty quiet. In fact, our Sages note that the whole reason why Yehudah didn’t recognize her on the road (despite her having been his daughter-in-law twice) was because of her great modesty and refinement when at the home of her father-in-law…she even covered her face, so he really didn’t know what she looked like.
(You’re not obligated to cover your face when visiting your in-laws. The Sages just note that Tamar chose to of her own accord, which later proved advantageous.)
Further down the line, you have Ruth. Again, her refined modesty and reluctance to stand out are what actually make her stand out. Her refinement and concern for modesty is even more startling considering that she comes from a particularly brazen nation. Furthermore, she’s a convert from a nation despised (with good reason) by the Jews. To make things even more complicated, she looked different. Apparently, the Moavites had a distinctive look, making Ruth identifiable at first glance.
In other words, she was an ethnic minority of one from a most unpopular ethnic group.
(Note: I looked up Moavite archeology to get an idea of what the Moavites might have looked like, but found very little. Almost nothing remains of that once-powerful nation.)
Yet very quietly and unassumingly, Ruth swept up all the Moavite sparks of vitality with her when she left and elevated them with her conversion to Judaism.
And that was the beginning of the end for Moav.
Later, she married the great Boaz and their great-grandson ended up being King David…again, the direct line of Mashiach. Ruth also merited to have her story written out and an entire megillah named after her.
The Reluctant Leaders of Israel
In Shemot and Va’era, we have Moshe Rabbeinu, the baby of the family and a stutterer. He actually spends significant parts of his life undercover:
- He’s born in secrecy within a closed home to hide his light.
- He’s hidden in a floating box in the Nile (while his sister hides herself to watch over him).
- He’s locked up in an underground prison for several years.
Moshe Rabbeinu actually tries to get out of the leadership position Hashem has chosen for him. After his first official meeting with Pharoah leads to increased suffering for his beloved people, Moshe Rabbeinu tells Hashem:
“Perhaps I was the cause, since You sent a stutterer like me to him?”
Moshe Rabbeinu is definitely not engaging in any self-promotion here. In fact, he thinks he’s the wrong man for the job and is not afraid to tell this to God Himself.
Also, it’s worth noting that Aharon Hacohen shows absolutely no jealousy over the fact that his younger and less silver-tongued brother is chosen as the great redeemer. Due to Aharon’s profound humility and willingness to play second fiddle his entire life, his descendents are rewarded with the eternal priesthood.
Devorah Haneviah led the nation to military victory, but first she tried to avoid doing so.
There are many, many examples throughout Tanach of the lesser person, the one trodden upon or ignored, being chosen by Hashem for an exalted role.
Here’s one of my favorites: Gidon.
The Small-Tribe Boy Achieves Greatness
The story of Gidon in Judges has always been one of my favorites. When I finally studied it with the commentaries, I found even more to love.
We come across Gidon during a downturn in Jewish history. Gidon is born to the Jewish nation as it’s oppressed by the camel-riding crescent-bearing Midianites (the precursors of today’s Arabs).
Initially, Gidon is a member of the smallest tribe, Menashe. Furthermore, his family is one of the smallest and least significant of the Menashei families. And within his immediate family, Gidon is one of the younger brothers.
In other words, in terms of external status, Gidon is about as unimportant as you could be within the trodden-upon Jewish people at that time.
Gidon is working away in the threshing house.
Unbeknownst to Gidon and his father, an angel is invisibly waiting outside in the courtyard under a tree.
Knowing that discovery means death, Gidon tells his father,
“Abba, you are old. And if the the Midianim will come, you will not be able to flee. You go, and I will thresh.”
That’s according to Rashi. According to Radak, Gidon tells his father,
“My father, you are old. Enter into your home and I will thresh because if the Midyanim will come, you don’t have within you the strength to flee.”
That’s when the angel said in the name of God,
“You have upheld the mitzvah of honor [honoring your father] and you are suited to that all of my children shall immediately be redeemed by your hand.”
The angel became visible and declared,
“God is with you, mighty one of valor.”
(Please note that Gidon did not tweet, “Dude! Angel just appeared to me and declared me ‘mighty one of valor’! Please follow me!” Nor did he upload a selfie of himself and the angel to Instagram. Nor did he update his Facebook page with the new twist of events along with a request to “like” the “angel ‘n’ me” post. In fact, he was rather hesitant about his newfound status. Okay, I’m kidding about the social media. I know there was no such technology back then.)
Both Radak and Malbim state that Gidon’s mesirut nefesh for kivud av (putting his father’s safety and well-being above his own) ignited the merit which caused the angel to make itself known and everything else that followed.
But there was one other reason why Gidon was chosen.
Radak explains that the night before was Leil Haseder of Pesach. Gidon said (in addition to the text of the book of Shoftim),
“Last night, we read the Hallel and my father read me, ‘When Yisrael went out of Egypt’ — If our forefathers were tzaddikim, then perform a miracle for us in their merit. And if they were reshaim, then just as you performed for them, perform a miracle for us too.”
(Again, Gidon said this privately to God and the angel. He spoke quietly from the heart; he did not pass it on to the town crier.)
And Hashem said,
“By your life! Because you acted as a defender [sanigor] for my children, you are worth Me speaking with you immediately.”
VERY powerful stuff, as you can see.
Just the quiet self-sacrifice for his father and then arguing with God to perform a miracle not just for himself, but for the ENTIRE Jewish people…Gidon was suddenly catapulted from oppressed insignificant little Jew to prophet and national redeemer.
Not bad for a boy from a small tribe, eh?
There was no audience for Gidon initial actions. Just his father and an angel.
But Gidon’s vocalized care and concern for everyone else apparently went viral in Shamayim.
To sum up:
Traditionally, our greatest Jews (regardless of gender) tried to avoid the spotlight.
No need to go looking for attention; Hashem knows exactly who and where you are.
The absolutely most powerful act you can ever commit is to care about othersand to vocalize that care and concern to Hashem.
Plead for redemption on behalf of others, whether they’re good or bad!
Finally, I just want to say that as always, this is a process. Obviously, I have a public blog. So I am not exactly hiding myself under a bushel, am I? And sometimes, I feel more like gnashing my teeth than finding merits in my badly behaving fellows.
But the main thing is to try.
Knowing the goal and at least turning your face in that direction is a big part of achieving that goal.
Who knows if there’s an angel waiting outside for you?
This post first appeared on: www.myrtlerising.com
- Myrtle is a middle-aged housewife and mother in Eretz Yisrael who likes to read and write a lot.