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Shabbat Parashat Vayigash 5776

Ein Ayah: Humility for You and Me

(condensed from Ein Ayah, Shabbat 2:112)

Gemara: The Rabbis learned: One should always be humble like Hillel and not a kapdan (exacting and impatient) like Shammai.

 

Ein Ayah: One’s regard and love for people should always come from the higher side of life. In other words, whoever is connected to life will develop, at some time, that which is good and straight within himself and/or his actions. This includes lofty emotions and good pleasures, which are beneficial when they occur and far into the future, for the person involved and for the whole world. In order to enable these positive things, for which the world was created, to exist, it is worthwhile to put up with things that are negative and even potentially corruptive. We should always look for that which is related, whether closely or distantly, to goodness and wisdom, and put up with the unwanted by-products.

Whoever has a more sensitive, broadminded spirit will find it easier to find the hidden good in everything that occurs around him, even if it is not done in the desired manner. Those who want to learn from the greatest scholars should always look for the good and just. These are the elements that highlight for man that the purpose of life is for goodness and straightness, justice and wisdom, and all pleasant things that elevate the spirit.

Two factors affect how this highlighting is done: humility/patience and exactness/impatience. The humble will see the full extent of the good in something, as part of a view that good pervades the world. Thereby, even distant and difficult things can be gathered in to relate to positive things in life. Kapdanut demands that everything in life should be focused exclusively on goodness and correctness. This attribute warns against stumbling by using tolerance to accept negative things because of elements of goodness that exist within them.

The Leader of All Actions planted great luminaries in every generation to teach mankind the proper path. He gave different inclinations to different great people, enabling them to lead their generations and future ones in a certain manner. Some gravitated toward a central approach within which kapdanut, including protesting against any wavering from proper behavior, is good. Others taught that if there is a kernel of goodness, all extraneous elements can be drawn over to good. The great Hillel and Shammai differed one from the other in this point. Hillel used humility to capture the idea that a small amount of quality of purpose of life can reign supreme. Shammai used kapdanut to follow the quantitative indications of whether something is good or not.

It is wrong to try to decide which one of these great people was better, which is like trying to decide between heat and light. Each one is crucial within its context. However, there are few people who can follow their path in life independently and properly. Most people have to follow a great role model. In this regard, Chazal taught us that humility is an intrinsically better approach than kapdanut, both in terms of absolute truth and in terms of positive influence on man. This is the proper approach even for one who is on a far lower level than Hillel, who can still bring peace to the world through his tolerance. Kapdanut can work for a great person who knows how to demonstrate exactly what the correct way of living is. However, a lesser person will not succeed, as he will be unable to distinguish what the exact right manner of living is and be unable to protest in the proper way. Thus, the kapdanut of a lesser person will ruin his own middot and harm peaceful relationships.

That is what the gemara means by a person should always …, meaning an average person, should follow Hillel’s humility. An average person must not, Heaven forbid, follow Shammai, whose approach was only good for people like him. Kapdanut must not be mimicked; tolerance may be.
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