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he habit of humility is acquired through training and reflection. The training consists in gradually habituating oneself to act humbly by always keeping in the background, and by dressing modestly; for a man’s dress may be respectable without ostentation. In the very process of becoming habituated to these ways, humility gradually takes possession of a man’s heart, until it is firmly established. For dispositions like pride and arrogance, inherent in human nature, cannot be eradicated except by means of outward actions. As we have explained with regard to zeal, these outward actions, being subject to control, gradually modify a man’s inward nature, which is less subject to control. This truth is conveyed in the rabbinic adage, “Let a man always be resourceful in his piety” (Ber. 17a), that is to say, let him contrive stratagems wherewith to overcome his natural inclinations. The first way to approach humility, the way we have called kibbush, is through habit or control of one’s outward actions. By striving to constrain the natural swelling of pride that human beings experience at even the slightest provocation, by actively “working” at avoiding the behaviors typical of such pride and replacing them with behaviors that efface a person’s “footprint” in the world, one begins to affect the inner structures of consciousness. Emmanuel Levinas was fond of saying that the beginning of ethics was holding the door for another person and saying, “Après vous,” or “After you.” But in the matter of reflection, there are various considerations. Consider first the dictum of Akabya ben Mahalalel. “Know whence thou camest:—from a putrid drop; whither thou art going:—to a place of dust, worms and maggots; and before whom thou wilt have to give account and reckoning in the future:— before the Supreme King of kings, the Holy One, blessed be He” (Ab. 3.1). Indeed these thoughts counteract pride and make for humility. If a man were to Chapter 23 h Concerning the Means of Acquiring Humility 252 T 253 bear in mind the worthless character of his bodily substance, and the ignoble nature of his origin, he would understand why he should not be proud, but rather ashamed and abashed. Man is in the position of a swineherd who rose to be a king, and who, whenever he thought of his early life, could not act proudly. If a man would recall that after all his greatness he will return to dust and be food for worms, surely then would his pride be humbled, and his arrogance forgotten. What matters his goodness or his greatness, since he is bound to end up in shame and confusion? Again, let a man picture himself being summoned before the great court of the heavenly host and standing in the presence of the King of kings, the Holy One, blessed be He, who is infinite in holiness and purity, and in the midst of the assembly of holy beings who are His mighty ministers, obedient and without blemish; and let him picture himself standing before them as a mere insignificant being, worthless and despicable, and in actions unclean and repellent. Will he dare to lift up his head? Will his mouth find words? When they will ask, “Where, now, is thy mouth? Where now is thy pride and thy glory which thou didst display in thy world?” What will he answer, and how will he reply to such reproof? Let a man but for one moment envisage this scene as it will, indeed, be enacted, and all pride will leave him forever. As important and potentially efficacious as kibbush is in regard to humility, tikkun , or transformation, is more important. In this case, tikkun is achieved through a meditation process that requires one to apply the highest form of intellect in a context of brutal honesty. The process begins by confronting mortality or, as I think comports better with the context we have given to Ramchal’s work, by meditating on Creation. To recognize the limit of our mortality is potentially to internalize the meaning of Creation, namely, that we are not responsible for our own being. Rather, it is given to us as a gift, and like all gifts, it brings a sense of indebtedness. As this realization matures and brings with it the experience of yirah that we have spoken so much about, we are overwhelmed by the infinite nature of that indebtedness. In the face of this infinite indebtedness how can we possibly...


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MARC Record
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