Letter & Spirit: The Quality of Humility

In this week’s edition of Letter and Spirit, in the midst of our preparations for the Yom Tov of Pesach – especially the baking of matzah, we present a letter from the Rebbe in which he addresses the quality of humility, in keeping with the lesson of matzah which we strive to internalize at this time. The letter was written in English through the Rebbe’s trusted secretary Rabbi Nissan Mindel, and was made available by the latter’s son-in-law, Rabbi Sholom Ber Shapiro.

This weekly feature is made possible by a collaboration between CrownHeights.info and Nissan Mindel Publications. Once a week we publish a unique letter of the Rebbe that was written originally in the English language, as dictated by the Rebbe to Rabbi Mindel.


                                                                                                                                             By the Grace of G-d

18th of Adar II, 5725

Brooklyn, N.Y.


Hackensack, N.J.

Greeting and Blessing:

I am in receipt of your letter. I will remember you in prayer, as requested, in connection with the matters about which you write, and may G-d grant that they should be resolved in a way that is truly good for you.  For the Jew this is possible only when things are in harmony with his Divine soul, in which case there is complete harmony, inasmuch as the “animal” soul will submit to the Divine soul in accordance with the ultimate design of the Creator. However, it is impossible that the Divine soul should acquiesce to the animal soul since this is counter to the design of the Creator, Who commanded the human being to be master of his nature and not subservient to it.

I trust that you had an enjoyable and inspiring Purim and may the joy and inspiration of Purim carry over into all your activities every day of the year. May it do so in the spirit of Purim in the words of the Megillah, “For the Jews there was Light, Joy, Gladness and Honor” both in the plain sense of these words as well as our Sages interpreted them “Light- this is Torah….. Honor- this is Tefillin. “Thereby they emphasize to us once again that the material and spiritual go hand in hand together for the Jew.

With blessing,

P.S.  Now for your question on the problem of the middah of humility and the like, wherein every Jew is required to make an effort to cultivate that trait and attain the highest possible degree of humility.  The question is, How is it possible for a person to attain true humility if he is consciously striving for it? For if he is aware of having accomplished it, this would in itself be in conflict with true humility.

No doubt you know of the well known question relating to the final paragraph of the Gemoro Sotoh wherein we find the statement by Rav Yosef: “Don’t say ‘humility is gone,’ for I am here!” A similar difficulty, though not quite identical, appears in the words of the Torah that Moshe was “more humble than any man on the face of the earth.”  Is it possible that Moshe Rbbeinu, who brought the children of Israel out of Egypt and who received the Torah on Mount Sinai and who built the Mishkon, was the leader of all the Jewish people, etc., yet considered himself more humble than any man on the face of the  earth?

The explanation is found at length in the teachings of the Alter Rebbe. The main point may briefly and simply be summarized as follows: Moshe Rabbenu indeed felt very humble, because he was certain that anyone else with powers and gifts which G-d had bestowed upon him, including such a great soul and such fine upbringing as he had, etc., would have accomplished a great deal more than he. Indeed, Moshe Rebbenu was able to cite many arguments in support of this feeling of his.

The same explanation will provide a solution to your question. To be humble does not mean to deny one’s qualities and accomplishments. For humility must obviously go together with honesty, and in fact, the more honest a person is, the greater is the degree of humility expected of him. True humility means that the person should realize that whatever he has accomplished and whatever he possesses, are not due exclusively to his own efforts and powers; he only contributed a small share of it, and any other person on the face of the earth could accomplish a great deal more if the same abilities and opportunities were given to him.

I trust that you are active in spreading Yiddishkeit  in your environment. No doubt you took advantage of the opportunity to disseminate the idea of Shalach monos and gifts to the poor which we recently observed. Although these are easy mitzvos to fulfill, they are unfortunately very neglected. I trust that you will also take full advantage of the coming festival of Pesach.


The above letter is from The Letter and the Spirit by Nissan Mindel Publications. The letters are from the archives of Rabbi Dr. Nissan Mindel, a personal secretary to the Previous Rebbe and The Rebbe, whose responsibilities included the Rebbe’s correspondence in English.

We thank Rabbi Sholom Ber Shapiro, director of Nissan Mindel Publications and the one entrusted by Rabbi Mindel, his father-in-law, with his archives, for making these letters available to the wider public. May the merit of the many stand him in good stead.

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