Idolatry and the Reward for Humility

The prophet Isaiah says that self-indulging individuals can arrogantly conclude that nothing exists except themselves. These individuals proclaim, “I am, and there is nothing besides me” (Isaiah 47:8).

This is also the root cause of disrespect towards others and the downfall of many civilizations.

The Torah repeatedly warns the Jewish people to avoid the trap of self-glorification. Our sages compare it to idolatry and point to Pharaoh as someone who made similar claims to portray himself as a god.

In this week’s Torah portion of Beshalach (Exodus 13:17-17:16), there is an incident that serves as a reminder that we are not all-powerful and need to partner with and trust in God if we wish to accomplish great things.

After escaping from the pursuing Egyptian army, a tattered and weak Jewish people were attacked by the powerful nation of Amalek. As the Jews waged war, Moses sat on a nearby hill and “whenever Moses raised his hands Israel would prevail, but, whenever he put his hands down Amalek would prevail” (Exodus 17:11).

This was not magic. Our sages (Talmud, Rosh Hashana 29a) say that Moses was pointing his hand toward heaven to remind the Jews to trust in God’s assistance and not to rely solely on their efforts to defeat their enemy.

This spiritual lesson should be applied to all aspects of life. Our Sages (Kiddushin 82:2), warn doctors to remember that God is the ultimate healer, and the prophet (Malachi 3:10) urges us to acknowledge that our livelihood is provided by God.

There is an important caveat. We must do our part, water a seed, visit a doctor and work for a living, and God will do his part, otherwise, we are left to our own limited efforts.

If we “walk humbly with God” ((Micha 6:8) the humility will bring blessings as it says, “the results of humility is fear of God, wealth, honor and life” (Proverbs 22:4.)

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz