The Path of the Just
Chapter 23 (Part 2)
Now on to the things we’d need to reflect on to be (and stay) humble.
Recall, though, that we’re referring to being piously and deeply humble, not
simply modest, unassuming, and politely non-egotistical. The sort we’re
talking about is obviously a whole other order of humility -- one that
touches the core and is deeply connected to our view of ourselves and our
place in the universe. And it would require us to arrive at some heart-felt
and even upending realization.
The first would be based on these bluntly stunning and truly upending words
of Akavyah ben Mahalalel. "Know where you have come from-- a putrid drop (of
semen); and where you’re going-- to a place of dust, vermin and worms; and
before Whom you’re destined to give an account and reckoning-- the King of
kings, the Holy One, blessed be He" (Pirkei Avot 3:1).
What that statement demands of us is that we take ourselves aside, realize
our stark, dire albeit common mortality, our humble and abject smallness,
and our utter dependence on G-d Almighty’s judgment. (To be sure, it also
points out the fact that, despite our lowly origins and end, still and all
G-d takes us seriously enough to reflect on the station of our souls and to
give us responsibility for it; but that’s not the point at hand.)
Indeed, Ramchal asserts that taking this to heart “stifles all arrogance
and helps foster (true pious) humility”, and it leaves one “abashed and
mortified”. Imagine, he goes on to say, if you were “a pig-herder who
(somehow) became a king”. It would be impossible for you “to become arrogant
(in your new role) if you remembered your origins”. And you’d also “be
humbled upon reflecting upon … (your) ultimate destiny” despite your new
For, despite your good fortune right now, in the end you too will “return to
dust and become food for worms”. “After all”, Ramchal points out, “what is
your greatness in fact if you’re destined to the shame and mortification
(that we all are)?”
So we’d need to take Akavyah ben Mahalalel’s words to heart if we’re to come
to truly pious humility.