This is the great apparent paradox of humility: being clear about your limits makes you and your authority stronger.
We are witnessing a failure of leadership in our time.
I don’t only mean that we have failing leaders (though there is that) but also that our definition of leadership—of strength and stewardship—is failing us. Among other things, our authority figures often model an unwillingness to apologize, to admit when they’re wrong, to acknowledge that someone else might know more than them. We see this in our highest offices, but the message has reached all of us: one can’t admit to vulnerabilities or limits without risking complete impotence.
Jewish tradition sees leadership very differently.
According to Jewish mystical tradition, in the very beginning God filled all of time and space; there was no room for anything else. And so, in order to make it possible for the universe to be created, God had to become smaller. God had to contract. (In Hebrew this act is called tzimtzum.) The creator that we call Melekh Malkhei Ha-melakhim (King of King of Kings) paved the way for creation not by getting bigger but by getting smaller. Without tzimtzum, there wouldn’t be anything for God to be King of.
We are, of course, made in God’s image.
This is the great apparent paradox of humility: being clear about your limits makes you and your authority stronger. Today’s sefirot for the Omer are Malchut (majesty, greatness) and Hod (splendor, also defined as humility). It may seem counterintuitive, but there is Malchut in Hod; there is greatness in humility. An effective manager knows that one’s position is bolstered by having the confidence to delegate and to acknowledge the expertise of others. A good teacher knows that you maintain students’ respect not by pretending to know everything (an untenable position) but by being clear about what you do and don’t know. A wise parent knows that it’s better for everyone involved if you admit forthrightly to mistakes rather than masquerade as infallible.
With that in mind, a few questions to contemplate on this day: When you do something wrong, what do you usually do? When you don’t know something or when you’re unsure, what do you do? On this day of Malchut in Hod, could you commit to being honest about your limitations in order to make space for greatness?