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Letter 66 | American Values Religious Voices

Letter 66

DAY 66

Tammy Jacobowitz

Bible Department Chair
SAR High School
March 26, 2021

Dear President Biden, Vice President Harris, and Members of the 117th Congress,

Throughout the Hebrew Bible, prophets warn of the dangers of an inflated ego, which misleads leaders to think they can be fully self-reliant. The illusion of self-sufficiency means a leader won’t benefit from the abundant resources that others provide, which can lead to myopia, poor judgement, and much worse.

By contrast, humility—living with awareness of one’s strengths and limitations—is the birthplace of stable, capable leadership. With humility comes slowness and deliberation. To be humble is to understand that no one person, team, or group holds a monopoly on answers or insight.

But can one have too much humility?

The Pentateuch praises the towering leader, Moses, for his humility: “Now Moses was a very humble man, more so than any other person on earth” (Numbers 12:3). Though his list of accomplishments staggers the human imagination, not the least of which was meeting God “face to face” (Exodus 33:11), Moses did not broadcast his successes. On the contrary, all who met him encountered a man with inner reserve.

“Leadership cannot be an exercise of the ego…”

But the rabbis of the Midrash, an ancient collection of biblical interpretation, expose the fault lines of Moses’ humility. On the opening verse of Leviticus, the rabbis highlight God’s call to Moses: “The Lord called to Moses and spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting” (Leviticus 1:1). They inflect the call as an impatient nudge, as if to say: “Moses! Enough humility! For too long, you have stood at the sidelines rather than step up to the plate. At the sea, I coaxed you to raise your staff. At Mount Sinai, you ascended only by invitation. I call you now, because it is you and only you who can hear My voice. Step up, please. Come closer.” The lesson from the rabbis in Leviticus Rabbah 1:5 is that excessive humility can slide into self-doubt and failure to act.

In this challenging moment, balance self-reliance with the recognition that you do not have all the answers. Honor your wisdom, and lean into your resources. Leadership cannot be an exercise of the ego, but must involve stepping up to meet an urgent demand. If you wait, the moment will pass you by.

With gratitude,

Tammy Jacobowitz

Dr. Tammy Jacobowitz
Bible Department Chair
SAR High School

the author

Tammy Jacobowitz is an educator based in New Jersey. Her teaching and writing explore the Hebrew Bible and its wisdom for modern times. As chair of the Bible department at the SAR high school in Riverdale, NY, Dr. Jacobowitz empowers her students to situate themselves at the intersection between the Bible and their lives. She is the founding director of Makom B’Siach at SAR, an immersive adult education program for parents, and teaches Bible pedagogy to rabbinical students. She completed her Ph.D. in Midrash at the University of Pennsylvania in 2010 as a Wexner Graduate Fellow. Dr. Jacobowitz is currently working on a book geared for parents to draw meaning from Bible study with their children.