One of my clearest memories of my time playing softball as a kid was the end of the game. If my team had won the game, then we all had to go shake the hands of the team that lost before we could celebrate. If we lost, we had to go congratulate the winner. The coaches always reminded us about our sportsmanship if we lost and how to be a gracious winner if we won. Not the easiest concepts growing up. Sometimes you don’t want to be the bigger person; sometimes you just want to pout, feel sorry for yourself, or even begrudge the person or team that won.
Even as adults we sometimes struggle with this, albeit in different situations. As we learn in the Torah and in our lives, how a person responds when it comes to competition reveals a great deal about his character. Our Biblical narrative up until this week has shown our leaders don’t always act with unflinching integrity. Abraham asks his wife to lie to save himself, Jacob steals a blessing from his brother, and Noah gets drunk and then causes his sons to sin. Then we get to Moses. Now Moses is not always perfect, but in this week’s Torah portions, Vayakhel-Pekudei, we see the true depth of Moses’s character.
In chapter 40, verses 15-16, God commands Moses to go and anoint his nephews, Aaron’s sons, as priests for the community. God tells Moses to do for his nephews as he had done for his brother, and Moses complies. Imagine being in Moses’s shoes and being asked to promote your nephews over your own sons. Moses doesn’t put up a fight or ask why not his own sons, he simply does what God asks him to do and moves on.
In this moment, Moses shows the greatness of his character and his love for his brother by anointing his nephews with the same purpose and intention as he anointed their father. Etymologically, to go from humility to humiliation is not much of a stretch, but for Moses to choose humility in honoring his nephews instead of humiliating them by disobeying God means a world of difference.
We show true love when we can rejoice in the good fortune of others even when it’s an experience we ourselves may never know. To be like Moses, to be a leader who celebrates with someone else when you are hurting, is truly what it means to be a part of a community.
THIS TOO IS TORAH: The Hebrew words for “a humble person” and for “grape” are spelled slightly differently, but are both pronounced “anav.” Some scholars have drawn a connection between grapes and humility because grapes are valued in a bunch, not individually. And grapes are worth more when they are squeezed into wine, just as a person’s true worth might be revealed when she is under pressure.