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Notes from the Conservative Yeshiva

Be an עַנְווִתָן like Hillel and not a קַפְדָן like Shammai

R. Shmuel Lewis

[On the last day of the Advanced Talmud class, the regular teacher was away, and we were privileged to get a class with the Rosh Yeshiva instead. Most of the Advanced Talmud class was learning לִשְׁמָה, for its own sake. (Admittedly, it was a subject with practical application today (as opposed to in Temple times only), but it was not an area of halacha I am willing to be bound by.) This, however, went beyond that, in a way that will become apparent if you read on. Without wishing to offend my teacher for the majority of the class, I can't help but wish we had had something like this the whole time.

My translation is rather rough here—in places very rough—as we only had a limited amount of time to get through a lot of material, and my חברותה partner, who had better Hebrew than me, was leaving me behind a bit, so that I was left to "backfill" the translation myself. (There were also more sources than we got through at all, but I have covered the main ones here.) If anyone wants to help correct my translations, they would be welcome.]

The terms ענוותן and קפדן are left untranslated in the following well-known story. In the following passages we will discover exactly what they mean. [Other Hebrew terms are translated in their title attribute—hover your mouse over them to see the translation.]

Source 1: מס׳ שבת עמ׳ ל״א עמ׳ א

Shabbat 30b-31a שבת לא א

The rabbis taught: A person should always try and be an עַנְווִתָן like Hillel and not a קַפְדָן like Shammai1.

A story is told of two men who made a wager with each other, saying: Anyone who goes and provokes Hillel will take four hundred zuz. One of them said, "I will provoke him.2" That day it was ערב שבת3, and Hillel was washing his hair. [The man] went and crossed by the entrance of his house and said. "Who is here, Hillel? Who is here, Hillel?4" [Hillel] wrapped himself and went out to speak to him. He said to him, "My son, what do you request?" He said to him, "I have a question to ask you." He said, "Ask, my son, ask." "Why are the heads of the Babylonians round?" He said, "My son, you have asked a good question. Because they don't have smart animals." He went and waited an hour, then returned and said: "Who is here, Hillel? Who is here, Hillel?" He wrapped himself [in his tallis?] and went out to speak to him. He said to him, "My son, what do you request?" He said to him, "I have a question to ask you." He said, "Ask, my son, ask." "Why are the eyes of Tarmudein not straight?" He said, "My son, you have asked a good question. Because they live between the sands." He went and waited an hour, then returned and said: "Who is here, Hillel? Who is here, Hillel?" He wrapped himself and went out to speak to him. He said to him, "My son, what do you request?" He said to him, "I have a question to ask you." He said, "Ask, my son, ask." "Why are the legs of Africans wide?" He said: "My son, you have asked a good question. Because they live between in watery marshes." He said to him, "I have many questions to ask, and I'm afraid that you will be annoyed* with me." He wrapped himself and sat before him, and said to him, "Everyone who wants to ask, ask." He said to him, "Are you Hillel whom they call the prince [נשיא] of Israel?" He said to him, "Yes." He said: "If you are he, may there not multiply like you in Israel." He said to him, "My son, why?" He said to him, "Because I lost four hundred zuz because of you." He said to him, "O watch out for your spirit!5"

It was worth it for Hillel, for you to lose four hundred zuz at his hands, and four hundred zuz—and Hillel was not strict with him.

תנו רבנן לעולם יהא אדם ענוותן כהלל ואל יהא קפדן כשמאי׃

מעשה בשני בני אדם שהמרו זה את זה אמרו כל מי שילך ויקניט את הלל יטול ארבע מאות זוז׃ אמר אחד מהם אני אקניטנו׃ אותו היום ערב שבת היה והלל חפף את ראשו׃ הלך ועבר על פתח ביתו אמר מי כאן הלל מי כאן הלל נתעטף ויצא לקראתו׃ אמר לו בני מה אתה מבקש אמר לו שאלה יש לי לשאול׃ אמר לו שאל בני שאל מפני מה ראשיהן של בבליים סגלגלות אמר לו בני שאלה גדולה שאלת מפני שאין להם חיות פקחות׃ הלך והמתין שעה אחת חזר ואמר מי כאן הלל מי כאן הלל נתעטף ויצא לקראתו׃ אמר לו בני מה אתה מבקש אמר לו שאלה יש לי לשאול׃ אמר לו שאל בני שאל מפני מה עיניהן של תרמודיין תרוטות אמר לו בני שאלה גדולה שאלת מפני שדרין בין החולות׃ הלך והמתין שעה אחת חזר ואמר מי כאן הלל מי כאן הלל נתעטף ויצא לקראתו׃ אמר לו בני מה אתה מבקש אמר לו שאלה יש לי לשאול׃ אמר לו שאל בני שאל מפני מה רגליהם של אפרקיים רחבות אמר לו בני שאלה גדולה שאלת מפני שדרין בין בצעי המים׃ אמר לו שאלות הרבה יש לי לשאול ומתירא אני שמא תכעוס׃ נתעטף וישב לפניו אמר לו כל שאלות שיש לך לשאול שאל׃ אמר לו אתה הוא הלל שקורין אותך נשיא ישראל אמר לו הן׃ אמר לו אם אתה הוא לא ירבו כמותך בישראל׃ אמר לו בני מפני מה אמר לו מפני שאבדתי על ידך ארבע מאות זוז׃ אמר לו הוי זהיר ברוחך כדי הוא הלל שתאבד על ידו ארבע מאות זוז וארבע מאות זוז והלל לא יקפיד

* תקפיד in all MSS, though תכעס "will make angry" in the first Soncino edition, and thence the Vilna edition. בכל כתבי היד כתוב "תקפיד"?? הגירסא "תכעס" הופיעה לראשונה בדפוס הונצינו ונכנסה לדפוס וילנה׃ "תקפיד" נראית גירסא יותר טובה כי היא מקבילה לאמירת הלל בסוף הסיפור—והלל לא יקפיד׃ ויתר על כן, הסיפור עוצב כתטובה להתנהגות השכיחה של החכמים שהיו מקפידים זה על זה׃

† 200 Zuz was enough to pay for one man's diet for twelve months.

  1. This sets up things, but also tells us the outcome, so we are pro-Hillel. Hillel is not just the hero of the story, but the hero of the culture.
  2. Normally when a bet is made, there is a disagreement about something beforehand. This implies Hillel has a reputation as difficult to provoke in the first place. Also, it's odd here that there is no loss reported.
  3. When Hillel is busy with a deadline he can't control. It's also a known fact that the Greeks and Romans were in general very respectful of the Jewish sabbath.
  4. Not a very polite way of getting his attention. In Succah 53a (below), Hillel said "If I am here, everyone is here, and if I am not here, who is here?" "Who is here, so-and-so?" does not appear anywhere else; it may be that the author of this story is using Hillel's own formula here—a scholarly insult.
  5. Another unique phrase. He's saying he should not be annoyed either.

So what exactly does מקפיד mean? The root only appears twice in the Bible. In rabbinic literature it used to mean a number of things including anger; also מקפיד בהלכה means very careful: not that someone's strict, but precise. By the Babylonian Talmud, however, the usage has narrowed down to just this one use here (not just to be angry).

Source 2: מס׳ שבת עמ׳ מ״ו עמ׳ א

Shabbat 46a שבת מו א

Rav Malkiya happened to come to the house of R. Shamlai, and moved a lamp*, and R. Shamlai was angry [איקפד].

Rabbi Yose of Galila happened to come to the ?atrium of Rabbi Yose son of R. Ḥanina, moved a lamp and made R. Yose son of R. Ḥanina angry [איקפד]. R. Abahu when he happened to come to the ?atrium of R. Yehoshua ben Levi, moved a lamp. When he happened to come to the ?atrium of R. Yoḥanan, he did not move a lamp.

What is your soul? Whether like R. Yehuda explained to him, that he should ?oppress like R. Yehuda, or like R. Shimon explained to him, that he should ?oppress like R. Shimon! Forever like R. Shimon explained to him, and because of his honour that R. Yoḥanan he did not ?oppress.

רב מלכיא איקלע לבי רבי שמלאי וטילטל שרגא ואיקפד רבי שמלאי׃

רבי יוסי גלילאה איקלע לאתריה דרבי יוסי ברבי חנינא טילטל שרגא ואיקפד רבי יוסי ברבי חנינא׃ רבי אבהו כי איקלע לאתריה דרבי יהושע בן לוי הוה מטלטל שרגא כי איקלע לאתריה דרבי יוחנן לא הוה מטלטל שרגא׃

מה נפשך אי כרבי יהודה סבירא ליה ליעבד כרבי יהודה אי כרבי שמעון סבירא ליה ליעבד כרבי שמעון לעולם כרבי שמעון סבירא ליה ומשום כבודו דרבי יוחנן הוא דלא הוה עביד׃

* On Shabbos. There was a מחלוקת about whether it was מוקצה.

† He wouldn't go against R. Yoḥanan's opinion in his own house.

Hence there is a connection between מקפיד and כבוד. It's always used in the Babylonian Talmud, in narrative (rather than halachic) use to refer to a rabbi, and in a case of an infringement of כבוד. One person treated a social superior in a way infringing their status. Person A treated B infringing their status, lowering their status, so Person B acts back in a way to reestablish their status.

So now we know that Hillel did not act back to the man making the wager trying to establish his status, by a show of anger. Aristotle talks about anger, in the Ethics. Orgē (’οργή) does not mean irritation; it means violent anger. It's a pain at what was done to someone, and the desire to revenge it: without this, it's not orgē. Aristotle asks when one does orgē? When he has been treated in a way that makes it seem as if he has no worth.

If you mistreated me, but I know that you have a self-aggrandising motive in doing so—e.g. you stole from me—that does not constitute orgē. orgē is only when you don't have a motive apart from contempt for me. What is the moral meaning of orgē? Aristotle says if you are in that situation and do not show orgē, you have a moral deficiency; you are slave-like. For Aristotle, it is a greater moral deficiency to not show orgē enough, than to show it too much.

Source 4: בראשית רבה פרשה ע (סימן ה, עמ׳ 3–802)

"[And Jacob vowed a vow, saying, If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go,] and will give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on" [Gen 28:20].

Achilles the convert entered the house of R. Eliezer and said to him, Behold all the praises of the convert, as it is said, "and you shall love the stranger to give him bread and raiment" [Deut 10:18]. He said to him, And if it is a easy in your eyes, a thing for which that old man [Jacob] threw himself down in supplication, as it is said, "and will give me bread to eat," etc. And this [i.e. G-d(?)] came and reached out to him in buying*.

[Achilles] entered R. Yehoshua's; [R. Yehoshua] started to comfort him with words. Bread is the Torah, as it is said, "Come, eat of my bread" [Prov. 9:5], the raiment is the טלית, a man merits Torah, he merits מצוה and not more, except they marry from their daughters to the priesthood and the sons of their children used to offer up elevation offerings on the corners of the altar. The bread is the showbread, the raiment is the garb of the priesthood. Behold in the Temple, in ??? borders, the bread is the challah, the raiment the first shorn wool [the gift to the priests].

ונתן לי לחם לאכול ובגד ללבוש

עקילס הגר נכנס אצל ר׳ אליעזר אמר לו הרי כל שבחו של גר שנאמר [דברים י] ואוהב גר לתת לו לחם ושמלה אמר לו וכי קלה היא בעיניך דבר שנתחבט עליו אותו זקן שנאמר ונתן לי לחם לאכול ובגד ללבוש ובא זה והושיטו לו בקנה׃

נכנס אצל רבי יהושע התחיל מנחמו בדברים לחם זו תורה דכתיב [משלי ט] לכו לחמו בלחמי שמלה זו טלית זכה אדם לתורה זכה למצוה ולא עוד אלא שמשיאין מבנותיהם לכהונה והיו בניהם מקריבים עולות על גבי המזבח לחם זה לחם הפנים שמלה, אילו בגדי כהונה, הרי במקדש, בגבולים מנין, לחם זו חלה, ושמלה, זו ראשית הגז׃

* I.e. that הקדוש ברוך הוא gives the convert sustenance and clothes without having to work for it.

He's complaining is that all he gets, bread and food? R. Yehoshua says you think that's not much? When Jacob had to flee with just the clothes on his back, with no idea of how long he would be away, it was a big thing to get food and clothes!

† Converts could not marry priests, but if their daughters did, their grandchildren would be priests—they get the spiritual riches.

This is not a "story"; it's just an exegetical dispute, not one of characters. But in קהלת רבה, the same story is embedded in a wider one, about their character:

Source 5: קהלת רבה, פרשה ז, מאמצע ד״ה א [ח] טוב אחרית דבר מראשיתו

"The patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit." [Eccl. 7:8]. [Lit., better long wind than high wind.]

A Persian came toward Rav. He said to him, teach me Torah. He said to him, say aleph. He said to him, From where do you get that this is aleph? There are those who say it isn't. Say beth. From where do you get that this is beth? He yelled at him in rebuke him, and he went out in rebuke.

He left and approach Shmuel. He said to him, teach me Torah. He said to him, say aleph. He said to him, From where do you get that this is aleph? He said to him, say beth. From where do you get that this is beth? He seized him by the ear, and he said, my ear! my ear! Shmuel said, who said this is your ear? He said, the whole world knows it's my ear! He said to him, here too, the whole world knows that this is aleph and this is beth. Immediately, the Persian was silenced, and accepted Shmuel.

It was the case that the patient in spirit was better than the proud in spirit. The patience that Shmuel showed to the Persian is better than the the הקפדה that Rav was with him. Were it not so, the Persian would have returned to his old nature, and called him.

The patient in spirit is [more] good: And furthermore, Achilles the convert asked R. Eliezer: He said, Does the love that הקדוש ברוך הוא loves the convert with consist only of bread and garb (for it is said, and you shall love the stranger to give him bread and raiment)? I have so many peacocks and how many pheasants that even my slave can't take care of all of them!

He said to him, And is it light in your eyes that our forefather Yaakov asked from the beginning, as it is said, and you shall love the stranger to give him bread and raiment; is that an easy thing?

He approached R. Yehoshua and asked him. Thus he said to him: A convert who converted for the sake of Heaven, is meritorious, and his daughters will marry into the priesthood. The bread is the showbread, and the clothes the priestly clothes. They contracted in words/things. [I.e. he's not going to gain a lot of physical things, but will have a lot of merits.]

His students said to him, is it light in your eyes that an old man [Jacob] had to supplicate, as it is said, "And give me bread", And why did he push him away with a straw?* He began to appease [the convert] in words: The bread is the Torah, as it is said, "Come, eat of my bread", and the clothes are the glory as it is said, [Prov. 8:15], "in me kings will reign."

It was the case that the patient of spirit was better. The patience that Rabbi Yehoshua showed with Achilles the convert is better than the the הקפדה that Rabbi Eliezer was with him. Were it not so, the Persian would have returned to his old nature, and called him. "The patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit."

טוב ארך רוח מגבה רוח

חד פרסי אתא גבי רב׃ אמר ליה: אלפני אוריא׃ אמר ליה: אמור אל״ף׃ אמר ליה: מאן דיימר דהוא אל״ף? ימרון דאינו כן! אמור בי״ת׃ אמר ליה: מאן אמר דהוא בי״ת? גער בו והוציאו בנזיפה׃

אזל לגבי שמואל׃ אמר לו: אלפני אוריא׃ אמר ליה: אמור אל״ף׃ אמר לו: מאן דיימר דהוא אל״ף? אמר ליה: אמור בי״ת׃ אמר ליה: מאן אמר דהוא בי״ת? אחדיה באודניה ואמר: אודני! אודני! אמר ליה: שמואל מאן אמר דהוא אודניך? אמר ליה: כולי עלמא ידעין דהוא אודני׃ אמר לו: אוף הכא כולי עלמא ידעין דהוא אל״ף, ודהוא בי״ת׃ מיד נשתתק הפרסי וקביל עלוי׃

הַווֵי, טוב ארך רוח מגבה רוח׃ טובה היא האריכה שהאריך שמואל עם הפרסי, מהקפדה שהקפיד עליה רב׃ אילולי כן, חזר הפרסי לסיאורו, וקרא עליו:

טוב ארך רוח, ועוד עקילס הגר שאל לר׳ אליעזר: אמר לו: הרי חיבה שחיבב הקדוש ברוך הוא, את הגר בלחם ובשמלה בלבד, שנאמר: [דברים י׳] ואוהב גר לתת לו לחם ושמלה?! כמה טווסין וכמה פסיונין אית לי, ואפילו עבדי לא משגיחין עליהון!

אמר ליה: וכי קלה היא בעיניך, דבר שבקש בו אבינו יעקב מתחלה, שנאמר: [בראשית כ״ח] ונתן לי לחם לאכול ובגד ללבוש׃ דבר קל הוא?!

אתא לגבי ר׳ יהושע ושאל ליה: כך אמר לו גר שנתגייר לשם שמים, זכה ומשיאין מבנותיו לכהונה׃ לחם, זו לחם הפנים׃ ובגד, אלו בגדי כהונה׃ צמצמו בדברים׃

אמרו לו תלמידיו: וכי קלה היא בעיניך דבר שנחבט בו הזקן?! שנאמר: [שם] ונתן לי לחם׃ ולמה את מושיטו בקנה התחיל מפייסו בדברים לחם זו התורה שנאמר: [משלי ט׳] לכו לחמו בלחמי׃ ובגד, זה הכבוד׃ שנאמר:ף [שם ח] בי מלכים ימלוכו׃

הווי, טוב ארך רוח, טובה היא האריכה שהאריך רבי יהושע, עם עקילס הגר, מהקפדה שהקפיד בו רבי אליעזר, שאילולי כן חזר לסיאורו וקרא עליו: טוב ארך רוח מגבה רוח׃

* I.e. not give a real answer, but say something simple to send him away.

The word ענוותן does not appear here; it sticks to the phrase in the source text.

In both sources 2 and 3, a non-Jew comes to Shammai asking to teach him Torah. The words are the same as above; "he yelled at him and sent him away in scorn." The motif of the alphabet appears elsewhere too.

In story 4, someone wants to be a convert so he can wear the priestly stories. The redactor evidently had a tradition like that in קהלת רבה. So why is the original story about Hillel and Shammai rather than R. Yehoshua and R. Eliezer?

Also, why was the word ארך רוח changed to ענוותן?

The redactor chose Hillel because it fits with an established tradition about Hillel's character, which was not the case for R. Eliezer and R. Yehoshua. Now, the Yehoshua/Eliezer story was not originally about their characters. The Rav and Shmuel story was probably also modified for the purposes of the redactor.

Without the character stuff, R. Shmuel would come out as the hero: the rabbi who outsmarted the smart-alec Persian. But the redactor came along and stuck the story under the verse from Ecclesiastes; changing the positive attribute of the hero to that he kept his temper.

Source 6: סוכה נ״ג עמ׳ א

1. It is taught: They said about Hillel the Elder, that when he was rejoicing in the rejoicing of the water-drawing ceremony, he said thus: If I am here, everyone is here, and if I am not here, who is here?* 2. He used to say thus: To a place that I love there my legs lead me, If you come to my house, I will come to your house. If you do not come to my house, I will not come to your house. As it is said [Ex. 20:21] In every place which I will cause to be remembered my name, I will come to you and bless you. תניא אמרו עליו על הלל הזקן כשהיה שמח בשמחת בית השואבה אמר כן אם אני כאן הכל כאן ואם איני כאן מי כאן הוא היה אומר כן למקום שאני אוהב שם רגלי מוליכות אותי אם תבא אל ביתי אני אבא אל ביתך אם אתה לא תבא אל ביתי אני לא אבא אל ביתך שנאמר בכל המקום אשר אזכיר את שמי אבא אליך וברכתיך׃

* This doesn't sound like the statement of a modest, humble person!

† Hillel is extrapolating from G-d to himself!? Hillel has the habit of saying things about himself but then bringing proof texts in which G-d is speaking. What are we to make of this? Hillel has an exalted self-awareness; however the fact that he uses G-d's speech to demonstrate this implies he is saying this doesn't just apply to him; it applies to everyone, because everyone is created in the image of G-d.

Source 7: ויקרא רבה א,ה

So Hillel used to say: My lowering of myself is really raising myself, and my raising of myself is really lowering of myself.

Who is like unto the LORD our God, who dwelleth on high, Who humbleth himself to behold the things that are in heaven, and in the earth! [He raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth the needy out of the dunghill; That he may set him with princes, even with the princes of his people. He maketh the barren woman to keep house, and to be a joyful mother of children. Praise ye the LORD.] (Psalms 113)

וכן היה הלל אומר השפלתי היא הגבהתי, הגבהתי היא השפלתי׃ מה טעם המגביהי לשבת המשפילי לראות (תהלים קיג, ה-ו)׃

מְקִימִי מֵעָפָר דָּל מֵאַשְׁפֹּת יָרִים אֶבְיוֹן׃ לְהוֹשִׁיבִי עִם־נְדִיבִים עִם נְדִיבֵי עַמּוֹ׃ מוֹשִׁיבִי עֲקֶרֶת הַבַּיִת אֵם-הַבָּנִים שְׂמֵחָה׃ הַלְלוּיָהּ׃

Source 8: אבות דרבי נתן,נוסחא ב, פרק ל (עמ׳ 66)

All of your deeds should be for the sake of heaven like Hillel. When he used to leave to go to a place they told him where are you going? I am going to perform a מצוה. What מצוה, Hillel? I am going to the toilet. And is this a מצוה? He told them yes, it's so I don't ruin my body!

Where are you going Hillel? I am going to perform a מצוה. What מצוה? I am going to the washhouse? And is this a מצוה? He told them yes, it's in order to clean my body.

Know that this is so: What is the case for the icons in the palaces of kings, the person who is appointed over them to rub them and to clean to them; the king gives him a salary every year. And furthermore, he is considered a very high person in the hierarchy of idol-worshippers.

We, who are created in the image and likeness [of G-d], as it is said, "For in the image of G-d He created Man"—how much more so!

Shammai did not [have this understanding of the body], but regarded this body merely as an instrument to serve G-d with [but not G-dly itself].

וכל מעשיך יהיו לשם שמים, כהלל׃ כשהיה הלל יוצא למקום היו אומרים לו להיכן אתה הולך, לעשות מצוה אני הולך׃ מה מצוה הלל, לבית כיסא אני הולך׃ וכי מצוה היא זו, אמר להן הן, בשביל שלא יתקלקל הגוף׃ איכן את הולך הלל׃ לעשות מצוה אני הולך, מה מצוה הלל׃ לבית המרחץ אני הולך׃ וכי מצוה היא זו, אמר להן הן, בשביל לנקות את הגוף׃ תדע לך שהוא כן, מה אם אוקייניות העומדות בפלטיות של מלכים, הממונה עליהם להיות שפן וממרקם, המלכות מעלה לו סלירא בכל שנה ושנה ולא עוד אלא שהוא מתגדל עם גדולי המלכות׃ אנו שנבראנו בצלם ובדמות שנא׳ כי בצלם אלוהים עשה את האדם (בראשית ט ו), על אחת כמה וכמה׃ שמאי לא היה אומר כך אלא יעשה חובותינו מן הגוף הזה׃

What do these sources mean that compare the human body to an icon? The ancient world considered that when you have a prototype, and a representation of that prototype, the prototype is present somehow in the representation of it. The genius of Hillel (or Akiva) is that human beings are vis-à-vis G-d in the same way that an idol of Zeus is vis-à-vis Zeus.

The concept of the body here is monistic: the body and soul are not considered separate. It's not the body Hillel's talking about but his whole being, mental states included.

Now, what about עָנָו? The basic meaning of the root is to be low, which is to be oppressed. עני [poor] comes from the same root; in the Bible, it's not possible to be עני by accident; it's only because they're oppressed.

So, the teller of our Hillel story knew these traditions, and that the moral is drawn that the patient person is the one you should emulate. He changed the characters to Hillel and Shammai.

Hillel refused to be מקפיד: to insist on one's rightful place in the social hierarchy. But you can only do this if you respond to an insult with another insult. Hillel has a theology which robs social hierarchy of any moral meaning, by definition. For him it is an instrument, only, for human projects: not everyone can be a king bee, and not everyone a worker bee; but don't think that that setup has any moral meaning! In the eye of G-d we are all the same.

Furthermore, if you insult somebody and they feel pain, G-d feels that pain. There is a story in the Midrash that when you execute someone, you have to put their body up, but you then take the body down, because G-d is like their twin, and feels their pain.

At the very end of the story, Hillel says "Hillel is worth it"—not only that if I insult you, I have offended the presence of G-d in you, but I also do something to the presence of G-d in me. To make that mistake and play the game of social hierarchy is not just offensive to them, but is destructive [to the G-dliness in myself].

"My lowering of myself is really raising myself, and my raising of myself is really lowering of myself": Lowering oneself means putting oneself equal to everyone else in the social hierarchy. But this is really raising myself, because I have asserted the meaning of my existence as in the image of G-d. Similarly, by raising myself I am saying that the meaning of my existence derives from something man-made, and by ignoring the divine aspect of it, I am really lowering myself.

Hillel is a unique figure, and the world as the rabbis knew it was a very competitive, very hierarchised world. This story has a function, aside from its beautiful teaching: To try and resist the hierarchising that came in the rabbinic world.

It's a mistake to think that Hillel's ענוותן is what the Greeks called anaraxia—even-temperedness, or what the Stoics called apatheia—lack of passion or feeling. Every morality is connected to a picture of the world. There is no psychological level at which the discourse of the rabbis with G-d exists. It's the internalisation of a certain picture of the world; it's not a psychological category. It's theliving out of the meaning of a certsain cosmology.

Therefore the ענו is not just an ideal, but also an interpreter: deepening the meaning of the image of G-d; and that there is no hierarchy but that of Man and G-d.

Sometimes the meanings of these things are not laid out for us by the teacher of the text, but also by the embodiment of a moral ideal.

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