humility

The Way of Humility is living as the Image of God, an Ambassador of Zion

As we continue our study on Humility, it is time for us to go back to our definition again: "Occupy a rightful space, neither too much nor too little. Focus neither on your own virtues nor the faults of others (Alan Morinis. Everyday Holiness: The Jewish Spiritual Path of Mussar p. 45.)."  This brings up the question:

What is our Rightful Place?

I have evoked that we are created in the Image of God, The Tzelem Elohim, so the question is, what does that mean?  To discover the answer we need to look at 2 versions of the same passage:

What is man that You take thought of him, And the son of man that You care for him? Yet You have made him a little lower than God, And You crown him with glory and majesty! You make him to rule over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet,
— Psalm 8:4-6 (NAS)
But one has testified somewhere, saying, “WHAT IS MAN, THAT YOU REMEMBER HIM? OR THE SON OF MAN, THAT YOU ARE CONCERNED ABOUT HIM? “YOU HAVE MADE HIM FOR A LITTLE WHILE LOWER THAN THE ANGELS; YOU HAVE CROWNED HIM WITH GLORY AND HONOR, AND HAVE APPOINTED HIM OVER THE WORKS OF YOUR HANDS; YOU HAVE PUT ALL THINGS IN SUBJECTION UNDER HIS FEET.” For in subjecting all things to him, He left nothing that is not subject to him. But now we do not yet see all things subjected to him.
— Hebrews 2:6-8 (NAS)

Did you notice the difference? 

Are we made lower than God or the Angels?

The answer is both, sort of.  Let me explain.

In the Psalm, the Hebrew word used is Elohim (God), and in the Letter to the Hebrews, the Greek word used is Aggelos (Angel).  Is this a contradiction or a mistranslation?  The answer is tricky, but kind of neither.

I am not familiar with another word in another language that has a meaning like Elohim.

Elohim means God in Fullness, all the energies of God, and every one and thing that participates within the Divine Nature.  It incorporates Yesh (God as the Ground of Being) and Ayin (The Nothingness of God), as well as the Heavenly Host (The Angels and Saints) and often the Just who are still living in this world who act according with the energies of God (Psalm 82:6; John 10:34).

The author of Hebrews uses the translation of Angels to highlight the argument he is making.  It is not a mistranslation, but it focuses on a part of the meaning rather than the whole.

What does it mean to be made a little lower than Elohim?

First of all, it means that we were made with Free Will.  Our nature is not forced to submit to a will that is not our own.  Since we can choose our actions, we can align ourselves with justice or injustice.

It also means we do not have an exact copy of the Yesh (Being) and Ayin (Emptiness) of God in our nature.  Instead, we have:

  • a Yetzer ha-tov, a shadow of the Ayin (Emptiness) of God.  This is our inclination toward unity, and it is often an inclination toward good.
  • a Yetzer ha-ra, a shadow of the Yesh (Being) of God.  This is our inclination toward individuality and separateness, and it is often an inclination toward evil.

I use the word often because neither of these inclinations are purely good or evil, and that is what makes them hard to navigate in between.

Our spirit is a trinity just like God, we have a Nashamah, a Ruach, and a Nefesh.  I just wanted to mention that now, I will go into more detail about that later.  Sorry about that, but I don't have enough time to go into that in this post.

Humility is the path between our two sides

True Humility is learning to live our lives as the Images of God that we are by walking carefully between these two sides of ourselves.  We have, in fact, been talking about this all along.

The Yetzer ha-tov of Humility is self-effacement.  The Yetzer ha-ra of humility is Arrogance.  Like with everything in the life of the Spirit, we need to learn to walk the middle path.

Armed with this knowledge, we now have the tools to determine our individual level of Humility in each and every circumstance we find ourselves.  Ask yourself:

  • Am I conforming too much? 
  • Have I submitted myself too much to the authority of others?
  • Have I allowed someone or something else to take up more space than it rightfully should?
  • Am I standing out too much?
  • Am I being to obstinate, forcing my will on others in a way that I have no right to do?
  • Am I taking up more space than I have any right to?
  • Am I taking up so much space I have left no space for others?
  • Have I allowed my opinions or comfort to blind myself to the needs of others that I should pay attention to?

These are only some of the questions we could ask.  Once we learn to question our inclinations to unity, conformity, individuality, and separateness, we can properly discern our rightful place, and develop a just and balanced sense of humility in ourselves.

May we all learn to walk this middle path.

Humility and the Art of Patience

Today, I learned a big lesson about the relationship between Humility and Patience.

You will remember that we are defining Humility as, "Occupy a rightful space, neither too much nor too little. Focus neither on your own virtues nor the faults of others (Alan Morinis. Everyday Holiness: The Jewish Spiritual Path of Mussar p. 45.)."

So, what happened?  I was setting up a new site, and as soon as I set up my domain name, it wouldn't let me log in.  In my line of work, this is not an unforeseeable problem, but it cause me to freak out in an unjustifiable way.

Luckily, I didn't say or do anything outlandish, but I did loose my patience.  This one little thing, the same sort of thing I have been through several times before, took over my mind, and I couldn't focus on anything else.  Why?

When I thought about it, this wasn't an issue of my own pride.  I didn't think, "How dare tech support make me wait!"  What happened was a good example of my own self-effacement.

I had just tested the site and everything looked good.  I posted the announcement that the new community site was up, and then I lost access.  I saw this technological hiccup as an example of my own failure to deliver on a promise that I had just made.  This hiccup, for which no one was at fault, took on all my feelings of inadequacy.

It took up the space I should have.  I knew that I just had to wait for everything to click into place if you will, but this self created demon of inadequacy shamed me, and caused me to shrink away from the person I am, and made me ignore everything I knew about the situation.

When everything just started working, I had to apologize for wasting the time of tech support.  Now, I had a new problem: I was now laser focused on my own shortcomings.

I had to let go.  I had to consciously occupy my rightful space, neither too much nor too little, focusing neither on my own perceived faults nor the virtues of others.  Events were out of my hands and this was not a problem that I caused or that I could fix.  I did what I could have done, but I should have been patient.

I wanted to share this experience because I am sure I am not the only one who allows things like this happen.  The power of mindfulness lets up recognize this problems arise, and like everything else, we have to learn to just let go.

Let go of what holds you back.  Occupy your right space, careful not to take up too little or too much.  It isn't easy, but it gets easier every time you do it.  May we all find the peace that passes all understanding.

The Path of Humility is to Love our Neighbor as Ourself

Yesterday was an interesting meditation on Humility in and of itself.  It feels like everything that happened was either an example of arrogance or self-effacement.  I saw it in my own actions, and those around me.

Arrogance and self-effacement feel like they are two of the cardinal errors gripping our world today.  They touch and taint everything, and nearly everyone.  Every time I watch the news I see another example of them in the media, often with disastrous effect.

I wonder where this comes from?  It obviously didn't happen overnight.

Sorrow grips me as I write this.  I want to weep for the state of the world, but I know that it has always been a mess, and will always be a mess, only the make up of the clutter changes.  All any of us can do is change ourselves, and in so doing, affect a great change on the world itself.

How do you interact with a world where some people see themselves as Chosen and the rest as less than dirt?

The state of the world arises from a distortion of Tzelem Elohim, the image of God.  We are all made in the image of God, having the imprint of the Creator in our hearts.  You don't have to be a believer to see this.  Carl Sagan used to say that we are "Star Stuff," and J Michael Straczynski wrote, "We are the Universe trying to understand itself."  Whatever the language or the words, we are all saying the same thing.

Our problems arise either from the aggrandizing of this image, or its defacement.  We revel in humor born out of insults.  Each joke chips away at the dignity of Human Life.  Or, we set our species, or nation, or ethnic group, or worse of all, our leaders, up on pedestals to be worshiped and obeyed.

The answer is an honest appraisal of ourselves, neither over praising our own virtues, nor celebrating the faults of others.  This is a middle path of its own.

Christ gave us two commandments, "The second is this, 'YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.' There is no other commandment greater than these (Mark 12:31 (NAS))."

Forget all the harping on the 10 Commandments, this is the one broken more than any other.

We either love ourselves and hate our neighbor, or love our neighbor and hate ourselves, but the real challenge in life is to do both.

Throughout my life, I have struggled with self-esteem.  It is hard for me to not hate myself.  Why?  My culture taught me to.  I am fat, gay, and think too much.  Three of the mortal sins of pop culture.  It was not until I realized that it doesn't matter what others think of me, that I saw myself as I am: a flawed person trying to be better.

This is the great call and challenge of Compassion and Humility.  Love your neighbor as yourself.  So long as you do that, you are on the right course.

Not too much, not too little: The Humility of Esther and the Arrogance of the King

As I continue my week's focus on Humility, I started a reading on the book of Esther.  There are many ways to read this book, and a part of me loves the feminist reading of the text (see here), but for this study, I am focusing on the lessons on humility presented in the book and ignoring all other readings.

What is Humility?

Occupy a rightful space, neither too much nor too little. Focus neither on your own virtues nor the faults of others.
— Alan Morinis, Everyday Holiness: The Jewish Spiritual Path of Mussar (p. 45).

With this definition in mind, I am reading the text to see the lessons that I can draw out of the book.

Vashti, too much or too little humility

The story begins with King Ahasuerus and Queen Vashti throwing a grand banquet, the King for the men, and the Queen for the women.  The King demanded that Vashti be brought before him, "But Queen Vashti refused to come at the king's command delivered by the eunuchs. Then the king became very angry and his wrath burned within him (Esther 1:12)."

The traditional view sees this refusal as an act of vanity or defiance, even vanity.  The feminist view sees her as standing up to her drunkard husband.  The question is, what really happened?

The problem is that this passage is a Rorschach Test, and everyone reads into it their own biases.  I am probably doing that too, but I think I see an insight into humility in this passage.

What was Vashti's rightful place?  The text says: "Queen Vashti also gave a banquet for the women in the palace which belonged to King Ahasuerus (Esther 1:9)."  Her place was a master of the banquet, ensuring that everything went off without a hitch.

When the King called her, he didn't just ask her to come into the next room, but for her to change clothes and parade herself before the men so they would see her as superior to their wives, who she was suppose to make sure were having a good time.

Vashti's actions were perfectly humble.  She did her duty rather than play to the arrogance and vanity of the king.  She must have known that she was putting her life in danger through this action, but she knew it was better for her to do her duty than to satisfy the lust of the men.

The Arrogance of the King

The drunk King Ahasuerus then consults his wise men about what should be done.  They feed his arrogance by saying that she wronged not only the king, but all the princes and guests at his party, ignoring that if she had come she would have shamed her own guests.  They then stoked his wrath by saying that her actions would bring about the end of every marriage in the kingdom, and cause wives to hate their husbands.  Does that sound familiar...

The idea that wounding the king's vanity would lead to the destruction of the kingdom's families is such an arrogance and insane level of hubris, that I cannot wrap my head around it.  This is not the last time, his arrogance will come up in the story, but this shows how extreme the problem is.

As king, Ahasuerus expanded his sense of place to encompass the lives of every person in his kingdom.  The very notion that if something so slight as Vashti doing her duty and not his will would corrupt every woman in the kingdom shows how he saw himself as the empire, and not just its head. 

He so over stepped his rightful place that his arrogance pushes Vashti out and sends him on a search for new wife.

Enter Esther

Esther enters the story as a model of Humility.  She fills her right space, not too much and not too little.  Every time she is mentioned in chapter 2, she is named with her heritage.  Like in the following passage, she is about to be brought before the king, and can bring with her anything she wants, so what does she do?

"Now when the turn of Esther, the daughter of Abihail the uncle of Mordecai who had taken her as his daughter, came to go in to the king, she did not request anything except what Hegai, the king's eunuch who was in charge of the women, advised. And Esther found favor in the eyes of all who saw her (Esther 2:15)."

She brings only what she was advised, and found favor with everyone.  Her humility should not be contrasted with Vashti, but with the King.  She knows if she is going to become next queen, she has to find favor with the King.

In my life, I need to learn from this example.  Esther, like the king in the previous chapter, sought the advise of someone who knew what she needed to know and do.  Unlike the King, Esther did not inflate her own self image, since she was very beautiful, but did what she need to do to become king. 

While she remembered her heritage, she kept it secret since it wasn't something they needed to know.  She filled the space available to her, and did not presume that her actions would effect more than just her and her immediate family.

The parallel between Esther and the King is a wonderful contrast of Humility and Arrogance.

Humility is the Root of Mindfulness

This week we are focusing on another of the 5 Strengths: Mindfulness.  Mindfulness is both the conscious living in the present moment, and the clear awareness of things as they are.  We chose to develop our mindfulness by focusing on the soul trait of Humility.

Humility is not what you think it is.  Humility is the one of the middle points between arrogance and self-effacement.  The other middle point in Pride.  While I know I really need to work on developing some Pride, this week is about humility.

Humility is occupying the space you are suppose to occupy.  A student is humble when they submit to the instruction of their teacher.  A teacher is humble when they take the lead and guide their students.

This quality depends on our circumstances and even our environment.  We must be mindful not to take up too much space or shrink from the space we should fill.

This has been a core problem of mine for a long time.  My issues with self-esteem have cause me to shrink into myself and not to take my proper role in many aspects of my life.  From my spiritual practice to my business, from my personal relationships to how I take care of myself. 

What is most interesting is that the more I shrank away from the role I should play in my own life and the lives of others, I have grown fatter and more out of shape.  It is like I compensated for my lack of proper space by taking up more physical space.

In my own life, I need to speak up when I need to, and take the actions I should take.  Discerning those places will not be easy, but it something I need to do.

Are you taking up the space you should take in your own life?  If you are not taking up enough, how will you expand yourself to take your proper space?  If you take up too much space, how will you reign in your ego to fit the space you have broken out of?

St Abel (2008)

It is hard to think about Abel without thinking about his brother and his martyrdom. I think it is more interesting to try to focus on Abel himself. This is the only person Jesus ever called righteous (Matt 23:35). We know so little about him.

"And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the LORD had respect unto Abel and to his offering (Gen 4:4):"


Other than his birth and his death, this is all we know about Abel. He simply gave the best he had to the Lord and the Lord counted it to him as righteousness.

Is this the only thing that made Abel righteous in the eyes of our Lord?

No, Abel is also a model of nonviolence, ahimsa, satyagraha whatever you want to call it. When he was attacked, he did not return violence for violence. Instead, he chose, like the Buddha after him, to have the the earth testify to the truth.

And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him.

And the LORD said unto Cain, Where is Abel your brother?

And he said, I know not: Am I my brother's keeper?

And he said, What have you done? the voice of your brother's blood cries unto me from the ground. And now you are cursed from the earth, which has opened her mouth to receive your brother's blood from your hand; When you till the ground, it shall not henceforth yield unto you her strength; a fugitive and a vagabond shall you be in the earth (Gen 4:8-12).


Like all the truly righteous, Abel left vengeance to the Lord. Never did he act out of hate or violence. He trusted in the Truth to avenge him, as it always does.

Holy Abel, first martyr, pray for us that we may learn humility and meekness from you. May we rely on the power of Truth to justify us, and not give into the darkness of our heart. Guide us in the way of peace, till the Kingdom comes. Amen.