Our Sages taught (Avot, Chapter 4): “Rabbi Levitas of Yavneh says: Be exceedingly humble.”
Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l writes (in his Anaf Etz Avot, page 246) that the greatest leaders and luminaries of the Jewish nation stood out in their humility. Indeed, the Sefer Chut Ha’Meshulash quotes the following story regarding Rabbeinu Akiva Eiger and the Chatam Sofer:
Hagaon Harav Daniel Prostitz (a member of the Chatam Sofer’s rabbinical court) suggested Hagaon Rabbi Akiva Eiger’s daughter as a marriage match to the great Gaon, Rabbi Moshe Sofer, the Chatam Sofer (after he had lost his first wife). The Chatam Sofer, who did not know the suggested woman, sent a letter to her father, Hagaon Rabbi Akiva Eiger, to inquire about her. Hagaon Rabbi Akiva Eiger replied in his letter that she was indeed and fine, modest, upstanding, and wonderful woman, however, he concluded his letter with the following words:
“Nevertheless, I am sure your honor wishes to fulfill all the teachings of our Sages, included their teaching (Pesachim 49b) that one should sell everything one has in order to marry the daughter of a Torah scholar. Unfortunately, I have not reached the level to be considered a Torah scholar.”
The Chatam Sofer replied in an equally magnificent manner:
“I believe your honor’s description of your daughter like one hundred witnesses. However, I am concerned about that which our Sages have taught (ibid.) that one should sell everything one has in order to marry one’s daughter off to a Torah scholar. I am doubtful whether I have reached the level to be considered a Torah scholar and whether I am worthy of being your son-in-law.”
Eventually, Hagaon Harav Daniel Prostitz was successful in convincing both of these Torah giants and to marry off the daughter of a Torah scholar to a Torah scholar. What an amazing incident!
The Gemara (Yoma 87b and Sanhedrin 7b) states that when Rav (one of the greatest of the earlier Amoraim) would see an entourage of people accompanying him, he recite the following verse (Iyov 20, 6-7) to himself: “Though his excellency mount up to the heavens and his head reach the clouds, yet he shall perish forever like his own dung, they who have seen him shall say, ‘Where is he?’”
Similarly, when Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l would enter large gatherings and events where the crown would stand on their feet and sing the ancient hymn of Sephardic liturgy, “Yachid El Dagul Mer’vavah,” he would recite the following verse (Tehillim 36, 12) to himself: “Let not the foot of arrogance tread upon me.” We have likewise heard from reliable sources that when Maran zt”l visited Mexico, he was afforded a king’s honor. One of the individuals accompanying him around noticed Maran zt”l muttering quietly to himself. When he leaned closer, he heard Maran zt”l telling himself, “Ovadia, you are dust and ash.”
The Sefer Noheg Ka’Tzon Yosef (authored by our dear friend Hagaon Rabbi Yitzchak Davda, which records the customs of Yeshivat Porat Yosef and other Yeshivot in Jerusalem) states: “I heard from Rabbi Meir Sudri that every day, after learning sessions had concluded in the Yeshiva (Porat Yosef), the great Gaon, Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l, would walk around the Bet Midrash (study hall) and collect the books left on the tables by some of the students and he would return them to the their respective places on the library shelves.” In this way, Maran zt”l would perform kindness with the caretakers and those responsible for maintaining the orderliness of the Yeshiva.
If such great luminaries, who spent their entire lives immersed in Torah and the service of Hashem, behaved in a manner of humility and lowliness, we must certainly not act in an arrogant manner and feel as if we are worthy of something or another. We must all fulfill the edict of “Let my soul be like dust to everyone.”