Finding Strength in Humility

By Shari Kenner
“The Kohanim and the people that were standing in the courtyard of the Temple, when they heard the special name of G-d said aloud by the Kohain Gadol in holiness and purity, bowed down and fell on their faces, saying: Blessed by G-d’s glorious majesty forever.”

I had never seen this for myself until I was 21 years old, in an old shul in Jerusalem for the Avodah service on Yom Kippur. I was following along intently in my Mahzor, when I suddenly realized everyone had disappeared! I looked around, and I noticed that my fellow congregants had all abruptly laid face down, flat on the floor. What was happening?

The prayer text above seems to be saying that the people in the Temple had prostrated themselves upon hearing G-d’s name.

Looking around us today, one has the feeling that things are out of control. There is violence and even bloodshed because of a misguided belief that there is only one pure race or religion. Our president and the ruler of North Korea are engaged in a dangerous battle of brinkmanship, threatening to drop nuclear weapons. What appears to be truly out of control is the egos of those making these proclamations. When people see themselves as superior, terrible harm can occur.

As I write this kavannah, we are reading parashat Eikev, where we are warned that we should not believe that our successes are only the result of our strengths. Perhaps the liturgy quoted above from the Yom Kippur prayer is to remind us to keep our egos in check. To realize that none of us are all-powerful. That ultimately, none of us is above others. Bowing down and laying prostrate on the floor elicits a feeling that there is something above us. If we let our hubris get out of control, the results will be catastrophic.

Chapter five in Pirkei Avot tells us that when the Jews stood together in the courtyard of the Temple, they fit together very tightly. However when they bowed down, miraculously, there was plenty of space for each of them to do so without bumping into each other. When we are humble, there is room for all of us. Only then will we truly be blessed.


About Shari Kenner

Shari is a social worker who works with people who have developmental disabilities and psychiatric diagnoses.