Humility is considered to be the foundation of spiritual growth and development. Abraham said before G-d “I am but dust and ashes”, connecting a sense of smallness with the earth. The traditional reasons for the comparison is that the humble person feels himself to be lowly much like the earth is lower than everything else. Furthermore, the humble person is tolerant of insult and suffering much like the earth ‘tolerates’ being trampled upon by everyone. Yet, there is another important connection: the earth, though the lowest level of existence, sustains all the higher levels of existence: the plant, the animal and the human. Similarly, though humility is a sense of smallness, it allows all levels of the human spirit to grow and flourish.
When The Kotzker was still a youth he approached two Torah scholars and asked them where is G-d. One replied, “Does the verse not say, ‘The whole world is filled with His Glory’?” The other quoted a similar statement from a mystical text, “There is no place empty of Him”. The Kotzker responded, “Fools, G-d is where you let Him in!”
If a person is egotistical and ‘full of himself’, he leaves no ‘space’ for G-d’s holiness to reside within hm. If he is humble, however, empty of egotism, then, and only then, G-d enters inside. Whether G-d rests within a person or not is largely determined by a persons level of humility.
Three types of humility:
a) Busha – ‘a sense of smallness’:
Busha is experienced when a person compares himself to someone or something much larger or greater then himself. The contrast produced by such a comparison causes the person to feel exceptionally small. Accompanying the feeling of smallness is a sense of shame and embarrassment at having initially felt oneself to be something great.
The following are examples of contemplations that can help evoke the feeling of busha:
a) Human procreation is one of the most awe inspiring phenomena in existence. It is considered to be a manifestation of divine infinity. Regardless how many humans are brought into existence, every human will be unique, with his or her own distinct personality and perspective of reality. Thus, theoretically, humanity could procreate trillions of trillions of times (an infinite number of times) and the very next child born will still be completely unique, unlike anyone else that had ever lived. We now have a new perspective on our own personality. We realize that we are merely one minuscule spark of the infinite number of potential personalities.
b) Knowledge is a limitless thing, and it does not take much thought to become aware of this. The number of subjects and disciplines in our world is overwhelming: Astronomy, astrology,art, biology,chemistry, computing, economics, engineering, geography, history, language, mathematics, politics,philosophy,physics,psychology, sociology, religion, etc. And each subject branches into numerous subdivisions. When one contemplates how little he knows relative to the amount of information available he will come to feel extremely ignorant.
c) Nature is an exceptionally powerful Divine instrument. Human strength relative to the power of nature is utterly insignificant. Here we are not only speaking about extraordinary natural catastrophes such as volcano eruptions, tornadoes, earthquakes, and tsunamis, but more ordinary everyday experiences as well. Merely observe the way we are constantly ‘bullied’ and controlled by natures conditions. If it is cold we are forced to dress warmly, and if it is hot we seek ways to cool ourselves down. How small and impotent we should feel before the mighty force of nature.
d) Imagine how small you are relative to your house, and then consider how small your house is relative to your block. Then imagine how small the block is relative to your suburb; how small the suburb is relative to your city; how small the city is relative to your country, the size of your country relative to your continent, your continent relative to the earth, the earth in relation to our solar system, our solar system relative to ten stars, ten stars relative to 100 stars, 100 relative to 1000 stars, 1000 relative to 100,000, 100,000 relative to 1,000,000, 1,000,000, relative to 100,000,000..relative to 100,000,000,000 stars, which is still not even close to the number of stars that fill the universe. Then progressively move backward through the levels until you return to imagining how small you are relative to your home. This contemplation should leave you feeling absolutely minuscule relative to the awesome vastness of the physical universe.
b) Anavah – ‘at one with the Creator’:
Imagine commenting to a parent how beautiful her infant is and hearing the response, “yes I made her myself!” Such a response would appear rather presumptuous. How can the parent attribute the creation of the child to herself when she does not understand the design of the human body, how the eye works, what causes the heart to beat, and how thoughts flow through the brain. The true Designer and Creator of the infant is G-d, and the parent’s role in the process is relatively minimal.
Though we may clearly see the absurdity of attributing the creation of another human being to ourselves, for some peculiar reason we do not feel the same way about attributing our own talents and capacities to ourselves. It is not uncommon for intelligent people to feel arrogant about their own superior intellect, or for a strong person to glorify himself in his strength. In truth, however, just as one does not really create another human being, one does not create one’s self either. The intelligent person does not understand how his own intellect works, or what stuff a thought is composed of; nor does he know where his creative flashes emanate from. Therefore, how can he ascribe his intellect to himself. It may be true that he had some conscious input into the development of his intelligence, the actualization of latent potential through diligence and effort, however, even those capacities were granted to him by his own creator, as was the very possibility of actualizing potential. Thus, a person should be honest enough to acknowledge that all that he is is essentially a product of the Creator, and it is the Creator’s capacities and powers which he manifests.
Prior to eating bread the Jew places both his hands on the bread and recites the blessing, “Blessed are You, G-d, King of the universe Who brings bread forth from the earth”. Now we all know that G-d does not produce bread from the earth but only grain. It is the human that processes the grain through grinding, sifting, kneading, and baking in order to produce the bread. So how do we make sense of the blessing?
The answer is associated with why we place both hands on the bread prior to reciting the blessing. According to Kabbalah, G-d emanated ten creative powers from His essence through which He Creates and governs our universe. These ten powers, termed Sefirot, are will, creativity, understanding, kindness, strength, beauty, victory, splendour, foundation, and sovereignty.
Each of the ten human fingers corresponds to one of these respective Sefirot. The general parallel between the human hands and the Sefirot is quite straight forward: G-d creates through the medium of the ten Sefirot and the human creates through the medium of the ten fingers of his hands. What surfaces from this teaching is that our own hands – the channels for our own creative power – are really manifestations/extensions of the creative power of the Ten Sefirot. Thus, whenever we create, it is really G-d’s creative power that we are ultimately expressing.
Now we can begin to make sense of the above mentioned blessing. The reason why we state that G-d brings bread from the earth, even though the human is largely involved in its production, is because the human’s input is an extension of G-d’s creative force and hence it is really G-d that produces the bread, beginning with the grain sprouting from the earth. By placing our ten fingers on the bread before reciting the blessing we indicate that it is the Ten Sefirot, channelling through our hands that have produced the bread.
The form of arrogance which can be seen as the opposite of the quality of Anavah is expressed in the verse, “the strength of my own hands has achieved for me this greatness.” Where the creative power within the human hands is separated from the Ten Sefirot and attributed to the human himself. Where the human arrogantly proclaims, “this is my product, I am the creator!”
The human did not always feel a sense of separateness from G-d that we currently experience. When Adam and Eve were first created they felt that everything was a manifestation of G-d. It was only after the ‘sin’ of the tree of knowledge of good and evil that a sense of separateness from G-d was felt.
According to the mystical tradition, the fruit of the tree was grape, and the sin consisted of Eve squeezing the juice out of the grape. If we observe the Hebrew word for grape “anav” we find that it is phonetically identical with the term for a humble person - “anav’. What is the connection between a humble person and a grape? Just as juice is contained within the grape, the creative energy of the humble person is ‘contained’ within the Divine consciousness or creative force, for the humble person feels that his creativity is really just an extension of G-d’s creativity.
The symbolism of Eve squeezing the juice out of the grape was that she separated her own sense of self from G-d. Her consciousness was separated from the encasement of the divine much like the juice is squeezed out of the grape. She thus left the state of Anav – meaning both grape and humility.
The individual that epitomized the state of Anavah was Moses. Describing him the Torah states, “the man Moses was extremely Anav from all the people on the face of the earth”. The Midrash describes the way Moses would think that was expressive of his Anavah:
“Moses realized that all of his talents and abilities were endowed to him by G-d and were not his own doing. Furthermore, he would think to himself, “If someone else was given the same abilities that I have been given, they would probably use them more effectively than I am”.
As a result of such thinking he was humble not only before G-d but also before other people.
c) Shiflut – ‘a sense of lowliness’
Shiflut is a state of self deprecation that results from an awareness of one’s own flaws and negative traits. The difference between Busha and Shiflut is that Busha involves awareness of something much greater than oneself whereas shiflut involves focusing directly on one’s own lowliness.
Shiflut involves a state of emotional discomfort often referred to as ‘merrirut’( lit. bitterness), contrition. This discomfort is analogous to pain. Do we conceive of pain as a good thing or a bad thing? On the one hand pain involves suffering and distracts an individual’s attention from his tasks and interests; on the other hand, pain serves to indicate that the body is damaged and requires treatment. Without pain a person would be oblivious to bodily injury which could result in fatality.
Similarly, merirut may bring feelings of discomfort but without it we would remain unaware, or pay little attention to our faults, and we certainly would do nothing about improving or refining ourselves. After all, if we do not feel any discomfort with the status quo why should we want to change? Thus the attainment of shiflut is an effective manner to bring about personal healing, growth and transformation.