True, these are places in a world of falsehood. If the world only had a little more light, none of this would be necessary.
But the soul that knows its place knows that the great and lofty G-d is not found at the summit of mountains, but in the simple act of lending a hand or a comforting word in a world of falsehood and delusions.
-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“The Path of the Humble”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
–Philippians 2:3-11 (ESV)
The New Testament is full of lessons on and examples of humility. The idea is that we put God first in our minds and our hearts and our actions, and not seek to exalt ourselves. And yet as we see from the lesson of the Rebbe, even in seeking God on the highest mountain tops and even into the highest Heavens, we are not truly humble.
I suppose there’s a dichotomy involved. We have our feet on earth, yet our eyes gaze upward toward Heaven. The Divine spark within us is trapped in earthly flesh but seeks to return to its fiery Source. How can we really be humble once we realize that we have been made in the Holy image of the Creator of the Universe?
This can be a problem.
The problem is that we have a tendency to elevate ourselves in relation to those around us who do not realize that they too have been created in God’s image. God peppered the Bible with many lessons on remaining humble, and yet we seem to ignore them all.
Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” –Luke 14:7-11 (ESV)
Human nature tells us not to pass up an opportunity because it may never come again. If there is an open seat in a place of honor, our impulse is to sit in it. Sure, we know the parable I just quoted above, but this is real life, right? Parables and religious lessons are fine, but how much do they really apply to the day to day world? If we wait for God to raise us up to a place of honor, it may never happen.
And if it doesn’t, so what?
I mean, did God really say that you have to be so important or exalted among your peers?
Let’s change our point of view a bit.
The Alter Rebbe now explains that there are also two general levels in the love of G-d. The higher level is called ahavah rabbah (“great love”). It is a gift from above, granted to an individual after he has attained the level of yirah ila‘ah. This love is so lofty that one cannot hope to achieve it unaided.
The second and lower level of love is attained by contemplating G-d’s greatness. It is called ahavat olam (“eternal love,” and more literally, “love of the world”), because it emanates from one’s comprehension of the world, i.e., from one’s appreciation of the G-dly life-force that animates the world.
Today’s Tanya Lesson (Listen online)
Likutei Amarim, middle of Chapter 43
By Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (1745-1812)
founder of Chabad Chassidism
Elucidated by Rabbi Yosef Wineberg
Translated from Yiddish by Rabbi Levy Wineberg
and Rabbi Sholom B. Wineberg
Edited by Uri Kaploun
But for most of us, there’s something that has to happen before we can learn to love God in any capacity.
It has previously been noted that the higher level of love can come about only after one’s fear of G-d is total.
Today’s Tanya Lesson (Listen online)
Likutei Amarim, end of Chapter 43
Fear. In Jewish mysticism, there is a lower level of fear (yirah tata’ah) that we experience when we realize the truly awesome nature of God and understand the terrible consequences we have earned for our sins. It is said that fear comes before wisdom. It is also said that wisdom comes before fear of God, which seems a contradiction, but it’s not. Yirah tata’ah comes before wisdom, but there is a different sort of fear and awe that requires us to already be wise.
The explanation is as follows: The Mishnah refers to the two above-mentioned levels of fear. The first statement — “If there is no fear, there is no wisdom” — refers to the lower level of fear, yirah tata‘ah. Without this level of fear, it is impossible to attain wisdom, i.e., the performance of Torah and mitzvot. (This is deemed wisdom, since the ultimate purpose of wisdom is repentance and good deeds.) The second statement — “If there is no wisdom, there is no fear” — refers to the higher level of fear, yirah ila’ah. This level of fear must be preceded by wisdom, i.e., the performance of Torah and mitzvot. Only thus is one able to attain the higher level of fear.
Today’s Tanya Lesson (Listen online)
Likutei Amarim, beginning of Chapter 43
But what does this have to do with humility and setting aside our natural human inclination to seek honors for ourselves, even as we say we seek to honor God? How can we truly value and even desire humility? There are two ways.
The first is to make ourselves refrain from taking the seat of honor out of fear that, if we are discovered not to belong there, we will be publicly shamed and removed from the banquet. This is sufficient I suppose, but hardly desirable. How can we serve God out of a sort of “peer pressure” to conform, even as everything else we are in our hearts and minds screams the opposite?
The second way is to wisely realize that if we love God, we will obey Him and that His desires are always best for us, regardless of how we may or may not be seen in the eyes of people around us. The seat of humility may not be in the spotlight, but it might be very comfortable and even very instructive.
Ben Zoma says:
Who is wise?
The one who learns from every person…
-from Pirkei Avot 4:1
Most secular people avoid a life of holiness, in part, because they fear that their own needs and desires will be completely dismissed, and that they’ll be compelled to live a life of self-denial and frankly, boredom. However I’m sure that you, as a true person of faith, if you took the time to review the events of your life and the gifts of God, would realize that the benefits, even in a temporal sense, far outweigh the sacrifices. You may never become rich or famous or exalted in seats of honor in this life, but if you first learned to fear God and then to love Him, you know that what God has provided has been much more than sufficient.
God is sitting among those who are farthest from the seats of honor and He can be found in the simple places.