On Humility

On Humility



Humility is the Touchstones Ministry Theme for this month, something more than simply a virtue according to Britain’s Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks.

…Moses, the greatest hero of Jewish tradition, is described by the Bible as “a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.” By today’s standards he was clearly wrongly advised. He should have hired an agent, sharpened up his image, let slip some calculated indiscretions about his conversations with the Almighty and sold his story to the press for a six-figure sum. With any luck, he might have landed up with his own television chat show, dispensing wisdom to those willing to bare their soul to the watching millions. He would have had his fifteen minutes of fame. Instead he had to settle for the lesser consolation of 3,000 years of moral influence

…Humility – true humility – is one of the most expansive and life-enhancing of all virtues. It does not mean undervaluing yourself. It means valuing other people. It signals …openness to life’s grandeur and the willingness to be surprised, uplifted, by goodness wherever one finds it.

…Humility, then, is more than just a virtue: it is a form of perception, a language in which the “I” is silent so that I can hear the “Thou,” the unspoken call beneath human speech, the Divine whisper…, the voice of otherness that calls …[us] to redeem its loneliness with the touch of love. Humility is what opens us to the world. (Source: http://www.chabad.org/therebbe/article_cdo/aid/83813/jewish/On-Humility.htm)

As a perception, literally “to take beforehand”, humility is a precondition to wisdom. It is the means by which one is truly “sense-able.” Rabbi Sachs’ nod to Martin Buber’s I-Thou theology is one primary example of this concept as it was experienced by Buber. In his book, When All You’ve Ever Wanted Isn’t Enough, Rabbi Harold Kushner relates Buber’s experience.

Martin Buber, an important twentieth-century theologian, taught that our relationships with others take either of two forms. They are either I-It, treating the other person as an object, seeing him only in terms of what he does, or I-Thou, seeing the other as a subject, being aware of the other person’s needs and feelings as well as one’s own. Buber tells the story of an incident which changed his life and led him to that formulation. When he was young, his parents were divorced and he went to live with his grandparents on a farm. He would feed the animals, clean the pens, and groom the horses. One day, when Buber was about eleven, he was caring for a horse which was his particular favorite. He loved to ride and groom and feed that horse, and often brought it special treats, and the horse seemed to respond and like the boy who feed and combed it as well. As Buber was stroking the horse’s neck, a strange feeling came over him. He felt that he could not only understand what it felt like to be an eleven-year-old boy patting a horse. Because he loved the horse, he could understand what it must have felt like to be a horse being patted by a boy. The joy of that moment, of being able to go beyond the confines of his own soul and know what another soul was experiencing, was so much more satisfying than the sense of power to make someone else do his will, that years later, Buber founded his entire theology on that feeling.

This month, let us consider the ways that we make room for such sensible, humble opportunities in our individual lives and collective life, ways that lead to a deeper affirmation, a broader empathy and a more courageous compassion for those we journey with and the world that sustains us.