Redefining What You Are…
Lowliness has the positive effect of getting rid of our self-centered attitude, allowing us to begin to see the inherent good in our surroundings and especially those around us. It also is the true recipe for happiness. And, finally, it is the most important ingredient in revealing what our life’s task is. Let’s look at these one by one.
Self-centeredness and Relationships
The major reason that relationships do not get off the ground or do not work is because of our natural tendency to be self-centered. Self-centeredness does not just mean that we are constantly thinking about our own selves and our own needs, but that we are always interpreting everything we see as actually revolving around ourselves.1
The unvoiced words of the self-centered attitude that constantly run through our minds are: “I deserve to be so-and-so…; I deserve to have so-and-so…; I deserve to be treated in such-and-such a way…,” etc. We all feel that we deserve everything. By definition, our self-centered egos tell us that all these people around us are here on our account. Relationships don’t work when you feel that way. They end up being contests, or struggles that pit one ego (that “deserves” everything) against another (that also “deserves” everything).
Lowliness offers the remedy because it begins with the realization that all the good that I have done (and because of which I feel that I “deserve”) was possible only by the loving-kindness of the Almighty.2 I have nothing of my own or to my merit. Without the Almighty’s help, nothing would have been possible, which means that all the credit is His, and His alone.
Seeing the good
Chassidic teachings explain that the role of our right and left eyes is different. The right eye is meant for viewing others positively, always observing, and catching their good qualities. The left eye, which is judgmental and critical, should be directed inwards, at oneself. Indeed, just as our eyes function together so is our ability to see the good in others dependent on our ability to justly criticize ourselves for all of our shortcomings, and our distance from the Almighty.
Lowliness and Happiness
Lowliness is also the foundation of true happiness in life. A person who is driven by his ego is never content. Such a person can never be satisfied. A person who has a lowly stance is forever thankful to the Almighty and to others for the goodness that they bestow on him or her. And, if they do not bestow goodness, a lowly person will not get upset, knowing full well that “all that G-d does is for the best.” Thus in Chassidic thought joy is considered a dependant of humility and lowliness. Without them, it is impossible to be happy, or enjoy one’s time on Earth.
Finally, true humility and lowliness allow us to see ourselves and others as they truly are. They connect us with the objective truth about who we are and what our role is. It then becomes possible to see that in every generation, G-d Almighty has sent a soul to earth that has the potential of becoming the Mashiach, the redeemer of the Jewish people and the entire world. That soul, that person, is known as Nasi Hador, the Prince of the Generation. He is the truly righteous and holy individual who will not bow down before anyone or anything other than G-d, and dedicates his life to bringing the Jewish people closer to the Almighty, strengthening the study of the Torah and the performance of its commandments.
What usually taints one’s realization that there is such a person in the generation is the “unconscious,” or unvoiced attitude that it is impossible that “I take orders from anyone….” This attitude is again the result of the unrelenting ego, which can only be neutralized by honest appraisal of the self that leads to lowliness and humility. Once a person realizes his objective position and place in the world, it becomes possible for him or her to connect with the Prince of the Generation, and to count himself as one of his “soldiers,” in his army of Torah and peace, dedicated to bringing the full and complete redemption for the benefit of all mankind.
1. The sages say that every person must say: “the whole world was created for me.” This may sound something like the ultimate self-centeredness (G-d Himself went through all of Genesis, just to set things up for me…); how does it fit the attitude expressed above?
However, the sages say that “every person” must say this: you, your spouse, your neighbor…—everyone. How can each andevery one of us be the center of the universe, the person for whom everything was created at the same time? How can the universe revolve on so many axes at the same time?
The answer is of course that the self-centered stance advocated by the sages is not one of “deserving,” but one of responsibility. The universe spinning around you means that you have the responsibility, and of course the ability, of making it a better place all the time. And so does everyone else. Every human being is responsible for fixing the world.
2. As in the saying of the sages: “Give Him of His own, for you and yours are His,” referring to the fact that a person must come to realize that everything that he or she has is entirely a gift from the Almighty.