The sin-offering of a yachid, individual, which is brought for an inadvertent sin (for a mitzvah whose intentional prohibition carries the punishment of Heavenly excision, kares), is always a beast (female goat or sheep) and does not vary up and down (oleh v’yoreid) according to the wealth or poverty of the one who sinned. The Sefer HaChinuch explains the shoresh ha’mitzvah, root of the commandment, as in all korbanos, to abase and bring the sinner to humility over the sin which he committed. As Shlomo HaMelech says in Mishlei (16:18), “Pride precedes destruction, and arrogance comes before failure.” Humility is the greatest safeguard from downfall. After all, when one holds himself to be low, he cannot fall very far.
Sin brings one to humility. When Aharon HaKohen approached the Mizbayach, Altar, and the opportunity to represent Klal Yisrael in performing the service of the Golden Calf (from the corners of the Mizbayach, keren – corner, keren – horn), the image frightened and subdued him, because he had played a role in creating the Golden Calf. It was certainly inadvertent and meant to save the people, but, nonetheless, he felt responsible, and, as a result, inadequate to represent the nation.
Moshe Rabbeinu took note of Aharon’s reluctance. He understood the reason he was demurring. He heartened and emboldened him, when he said, “Approach the Altar. Hashem designated you (specifically), due to your reluctance, born of humility.” One who is truly humble is best suited to serve Hashem, to ascend the ladder of distinction. It was precisely because of Aharon’s unpretentiousness that he was chosen to serve. Hashem does not want a leader who is arrogant. A leader who is full of himself has no room for his people.
Genuine spirituality can only flourish in a setting of humility. The Baal Shem Tov teaches that when one is meek, deferential, submissive – when he is not obsessed with himself – he will more easily recognize and acknowledge that his existence is fragile and that, without Hashem, he has absolutely no chance of survival. Whatever success he might ever enjoy will always be attributed to Hashem, because he knows that he alone is nothing. Humility leads one to prayer, because without Hashem, he cannot make it. Humility is authentic, or it is not humility. It is an approach to living as a Jew, with the constant awareness that one submits himself to a Higher Authority. Aharon HaKohen felt himself imperfect. Thus, he was the perfect person to become Klal Yisrael’s representative in the Mishkan.
Being aware of one’s fragility – both physical and spiritual – sparks one to serve Hashem with greater sincerity and trust. Everything that he does is genuine and meaningful. The Rav HaKollel, Chief Rabbi of New York, Horav Yaakov Yosef, zl, was a talmid chacham, Torah scholar, whose brilliance and erudition catapulted him above all other candidates for the position of Chief Rabbi. At the time, he was the de-facto Rav of Vilna. Sadly, his tenure was marred by much strife, since not all of the fifteen most prominent shuls to have originally supported him could maintain harmony with regard to their selection. Indeed, Rav Yosef was accorded great honor only twice during his tenure: When he arrived, to the outstanding welcome of 100,000 people, and fourteen years later at his funeral, which was attended by an estimated 120,000 people.
During his last year, the Chief Rabbi spent most of his time in seclusion, suffering from depression, as a result of the merciless diatribe fomented by his antagonists and the early onset of Alzheimer’s disease. He was only fifty-nine years old. On Shabbos Shuvah of that year (1902), he asked to deliver the traditional drasha, lecture, which focused on repentance, character refinement and mitzvah observance as a prerequisite for the yemei ha’din, days of judgment. Having been out of the public eye for some time, the announcement of his first public drasha brought out a huge crowd to the Bais Medrash HaGadol of the Lower East Side. He donned his tallis (a tradition before delivering the drasha), ascended to the bimah, lectern, and began with the opening words: “The Rambam in Hilchos Teshuvah…” He stopped, as the greatest fear (of any speaker) was realized: he forgot what he wanted to say. Here stood before them one of the most brilliant minds of the generation, a man who once had the entire Talmud and Codes at his fingertips, who was well-versed in all areas of Torah scholarship, and he could not remember what he wanted to say.
The Chief Rabbi waited a few (long) moments, composed himself and began to speak. “Morai v’Rabbosai, the drasha which I had planned to deliver has sadly slipped my mind. However, there is one thought I would like to share with you. The Mishnah says, “When Rabbi Yehudah HaNassi died, anavah, humility, passed (with him. There was no one who was so humble as Rebbe). Rav Yosef said, ‘This is not true, for I am still alive!’ (In other words, Rav Yosef said, concerning himself, ‘I am still alive, and I will wear the mantle of humility.’”).
“Is this humility, for Rav Yosef to declare concerning himself that he is humble? We must keep in mind the fact that Rav Yosef, who was the leader of the generation, and the Rebbe of Rava and Abaya, became blind during his old age and forgot his learning. His students, Rava and Abaya, were constantly reminding him of his teachings. Thus, Rav Yosef was intimating that, as long as he was alive, he was a living example of why a person should never be arrogant about his self-worth. For what is man? A frail, sad, helpless mortal, who, at any moment can lose everything, when his physical and/or mental faculties cease to function.
“How can a human being think that he is ‘something’? Humility has passed? Take one look at me. I forgot my drasha! Is there any more compelling and poignant drasha than this? When one looks at me, he sees the frailty and fragility of a human being!”
Need we say more?