Humility is our strongest suit

  • RabbiAriShishler
Two centuries ago, Polish noblemen would do anything to avoid giving business to a Jew. Ivan the poretz was willing to make an exception. He needed to have an exquisite suit made for an important personal celebration, and Moshe was the best tailor in the region. As much as it nauseated him, the squire knew he just had to use Moshe.
by Rabbi Ari Shishler, Chabad of Strathavon | Jun 18, 2020

Moshe was, in fact, the best. And he knew it. Moshe revelled in the irony: the crabby landholder beholden to a Jewish tailor. “Ah, and what a suit it would be,” Moshe mused, “Old Ivan will surely engage my services again, as will half the neighbouring squires.”

Moshe worked quickly. Two days ahead of schedule, he proudly presented the finished product to the squire. He smiled inwardly, as he waited for the squire to step out wearing his magnificent handiwork. Moshe’s excitement turned to horror as the squire re-entered the room. The suit didn’t fit at all. One sleeve was too long, and the waistline threatened to explode under the pressure of its wearer’s girth. The squire was furious. He spewed antisemitic vitriol, and threatened to have Moshe killed. Panicked, Moshe pleaded for a chance to repair the damage and fled home, his ego shattered.

Moshe was dumbfounded. He knew that he had measured everything perfectly and simply couldn’t understand what had gone awry. Worse, he couldn’t conceive of a way to salvage the suit – and his future.

Without a plan, and with the squire’s dire threats ringing in his ears, the desperate Moshe hurried to the great spiritual master, Reb Elimelech of Lizhensk. In the rebbe’s study, Moshe poured out his heart, and begged for a blessing to be able to turn things around. Reb Elimelech listened carefully, then spoke emphatically, “Go home and undo every single stitch of that garment. Then, sew it all back together, exactly as you had originally done. Do not modify any part of the suit.”

Moshe was completely perplexed, but wouldn’t dare to question the rebbe. He obediently followed the rebbe’s advice, and anxiously returned a day later to the squire. This time, the suit fit perfectly. The ecstatic squire handed Moshe a handsome sum, and even complimented the Jewish tailor on his handiwork.

Moshe, confused as before, returned to the rebbe to try and unravel the mystery of what had transpired.

“Moshe,” Reb Elimelech explained, “You surely appreciate that the suit didn’t change from the squire’s first fitting to the second. All that changed was you. When you originally presented the suit to the poretz, you were gushingly proud of your handiwork. Arrogance repels Hashem’s blessings, which is why the suit was a disaster at that point. When you undid every stitch, you then remade the suit with deep humility and a profound appreciation of the need for Hashem’s blessing to guarantee the success of your talent and expertise. Your newfound humility aligned you with the blessings you needed.”

COVID-19, and the lockdown it has brought, has made us all introspective. We feel uncertain about the future, about our families’ well-being, and about our financial security. This is a deeply disconcerting period. Perhaps, Hashem has offered us a chance to undo, stitch by stitch, the fibre of life as we have known it. We now have a chance to re-tailor our lives with a new hierarchy of priorities and a fresh appreciation for our relationships. Rather than leave us despondent, hopefully this trying time will leave us feeling humbler. Humility, Judaism teaches, is the gateway to Hashem’s richest blessings.


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