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n one of the previous chapters, we have dwelt upon the immorality of pride, leaving to inference the moral value of humility. We shall now make the virtue of humility our principal concern, and what is wrong with pride will, in the course of the discussion, become quite evident. Ramchal has approached the middah of humility, anavah, indirectly throughout Mesillat Yesharim, where it is unquestionably the core middah to which all of the other middot essentially contribute. However, here we are moving from humility as a middah to humility as a level of spiritual achievement. Obviously the distinction is a nuanced one, but a person who acts out of the middah of anavah in a particular situation is not the same as a person who has achieved the level of anavah in his or her spiritual journey. That person is called an anav. The principle of humility is that a man shall not think highly of himself for any reason whatsoever. This is the very opposite of what we understand by pride, and equally contrasted to each other are the consequences which follow from each of these traits respectively. Upon examination, we find that humility depends upon both thought and action. A man must be humble at heart before he can adopt the ways of the meek. Whoever wishes to conduct himself humbly, without being humble at heart, is only an evil pretender, and of the company of those hypocrites who are the bane of mankind. The total lack of self-absorption and concomitant absorption with the needs of another, that which we have been striving to achieve, characterizes anavah. To achieve this level of spiritual attainment requires the engagement of both “thought and action,” that is, both the intellect and the application of that intelChapter 22 h Concerning the Trait of Humility 240 I 241 lect in the world. These ideas have been characteristic of Mesillat Yesharim thus far, but here Ramchal makes clear that one must first achieve proper intellectual awareness before one’s deeds will truly project that awareness. To attempt to “act” humbly before having engaged in the necessary inner preparation will end in the worst sort of hypocrisy: one that deceives others into believing that the “humility” being practiced represents the highest level of spiritual development and should therefore serve as a model for others. We shall now explain the two aspects of humility. That is, intellect and deed. Humility in thought means that a man should be wholly persuaded of his unworthiness to be the recipient of praise and glory. A man of this sort will surely find it impossible to consider himself superior to any others. This attitude toward himself he will have not only because he is aware of his failings, but also because he realizes the insignificance of his attainments. That in the awareness of his shortcomings a man should be humble is selfevident . It is impossible for any man to be altogether without faults, which may be due to nature, to heredity, to accidents, or to his own doings. “For there is not a righteous man upon earth that doeth good, and sinneth not” (Eccl. 7.20). Such defects leave no room for self-esteem, despite the many excellent traits that one may otherwise possess. The defects are sufficient to eclipse the virtues. The simple but extraordinarily difficult starting point of proper intellectual preparation for humility is the undeniable fact that no human is without fault. Who could deny this? Yet who doesn’t deny this? The idea that we are fallible haunts the yetzer ha-ra. Our awareness of our shortcomings undermines the mastery of the world that we believe is necessary to negotiate the vicissitudes of life. Perhaps we are willing to reckon with our imperfection once a year in the course of the penitential season, or even to engage in penitence every day. But between our statements of penitence and even in the course of them, coming to terms with our inherent human limitations in a deep way can be devastating for us. Chapter Twenty-Two h 242 Mesillat Yesharim h The possession of learning, for example, makes dangerously for pride and self-esteem, since it is an advantage that accrues wholly to the intellect, which is the highest faculty of the human being. Yet there is no one so learned who does not make mistakes, or who is not in need of learning from his equals, and at times even from his disciples. How, then, shall...


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