Humility is not thinking less of yourself it’s thinking of yourself less
Despite how the title above might be interpreted, being humble doesn’t mean holding yourself in low esteem. It isn’t about feeling bad about or disliking yourself. It means recognizing how we all have strengths and flaws and how we are all worthy of being treated as equals. Humility means not putting yourself above or below others. As the 14th century Rabbi, Bahya ben Asher once said: Humility is halfway between too much pride and too little pride.
This week’s Torah portion Vayeishev begins with a not so subtle introduction to the line of Jacob – Joseph tended the flocks with his brothers (Gen. 37:2). In spite of the fact that Jacob had many children, only Joseph is mentioned by name here. With his siblings lumped together as “his brothers,” we have the distinct impression that Joseph is Jacob’s favorite. This sense is validated with the words: וְיִשְׂרָאֵל אָהַב אֶת־יוֹסֵף מִכָּל־בָּנָיו -- Israel (Jacob) loved Joseph best of all. Rather than hide his feelings, Jacob also provides a visual reminder of Joseph’s favored status in the guise of a gift – a custom made ornamented coat-- a coat of many colors.
Taking advantage of his favored status Joseph snitches on his still nameless brothers, delivering “bad reports” about them to his father. Not surprisingly, the brothers are none too pleased at Joseph’s behavior especially when he arrogantly reports his dreams to them and then to Jacob—dreams that seem to imply Joseph’s superior status. In the first dream sheaves of grain belonging to the brothers bow down to Joseph’s sheaves and in the second the sun, moon and stars bow down to him.
The brothers’ hatred of Joseph reaches a climax when Jacob sends Joseph to check on his brothers who are pasturing a flock in Shechem. When Joseph arrives, the brothers tear off his coat of many colors and throw him in a pit. It will be many years before the brothers and Jacob see Joseph again.
Whether or not Jacob’s poor parenting skills paved the way for Joseph’s narcissistic mindset, it is Joseph who needs to take responsibility for his own behavior-- acknowledging a world beyond his own needs and desires. Over the next few weeks we will watch Joseph do just that. When he does he can’t help but find humility because humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.