Yom Kippur Draws Near

Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement begins at sundown this evening. It is a somewhat stressful time for most of us, as it is a day of fasting–no food, no water–with a focus on what we’ve done wrong. It brings with it intimations and reminders of our own death. It involves a lot of hours in synagogue, praying (or listening to Torah readings, or trying to ignore that fact that you haven’t had any water in 20 hours and your mouth is really dry). It is a time of deep introspection. I kind of love Yom Kippur, actually. It’s Judaism at its darkest: focusing on the places we fear to go, forcing us out of our comfort zones, asking us to confront the uncomfortable.

Over the course of years, I, as so many of us do, have drifted into patterns in my life that I disapprove of. Maybe I gain a pound or two a year. As was pointed out to me recently, over the course or twenty years or so, that begins to add up. Maybe I give myself I pass on reaching out to people from time to time. Over time, that leads to a more insular life.

During Yom Kippur we have the opportunity to face ourselves (and God?) naked of the filters we normally bring. We have the opportunity to put aside our pride, our false bravado, our false humility, and find true humility. It is an opportunity to try to see ourselves as we are in the universe.

May this Yom Kippur be a meaningful one for all who celebrate it, and may we all be sealed for a good year. Gmar Hatimah Tovah.

Humility: You’re doing it wrong

After yesterday’s post on humility, I felt there might be a need for another look at the subject. Lest anyone think that humility implies a lack of humor, I thought I might talk about how not to be humble:

  1. While it may be okay to be proud of being humble, boasting about it to everyone you know seems like it misses the point.
  2. Telling your coworkers, “I can’t talk to you right now, I’m working on my humility”? Not so much.
  3. Deliberately screwing up so that you have things to be humble about (admittedly, there is a school of thought in Mussar that calls for making oneself appear foolish–for instance, walking into a bakery and asking to buy a hammer–in order to inculcate humility, but that’s different).
  4. Refusing to take a drivers test because you might pass, and after all, you know you’re not worthy of passing.
  5. Offering to teach a class in humility.
  6. Avoiding certain people because they “harsh my humility, man.”
  7. After beating someone else’s highscore, explaining to them that they shouldn’t feel bad, because really, you’re not very good.
  8. Printing up and wearing a t-shirt which says: “I got your humility right here, babe.”
  9. Going around all day and pointing out to everyone how they would act differently if they were as humble as you. (This is just a bad idea in general…it really will get you smacked a lot…which now that I think of it might lead to learning some humility…well, your choice on this one).
  10. Aspiring to be a Master of Humility.

If you’ve got more ideas, leave them in the comments:

Arrogance and Humility

I came to a realization this weekend. My humility? I lost it somewhere in the last year or so. Which is deeply upsetting, because I worked long and hard to become even somewhat humble. One might go so far as to say I was proud of having attained humility (and, as much as that seems an oxymoron, I don’t think it is).

Humility is one of the virtues that almost all religious traditions extol. That’s because it is, to some degree, a prerequisite for understanding our place in a universe which contains a God.

One part of a relationship to Divinity is understanding that next to Divinity, we have no significance, no value, no worth. Yet, despite that, we need to understand that the Divine does value us, and in most religious traditions, even loves us. We who are unworthy based on our own actions, based on any actions of which we are capable, and made worthy because we are loved (by being human and Divine).

Spiritual teaching tends to prize humility for another reason. Spiritual learning is often about self-transformation. If we are too arrogant (lacking in humility) we are unlikely to be willing to look at ourselves honestly and see  the need for change.

Finally, humility is important because it impacts the way we regard and treat others. When I come from a place of humility, I cannot judge another, because I know that I cannot do better. I am more generous in my opinions, choosing to understand the slights I may sense from others as unintentional. And I am much more careful in how I speak of others, being very careful not to criticize others behind their backs, or to tolerate in myself faults I condemn in others.

This is not to say that when I am humble I am perfect. I’m not. I’m nicer, more understanding, and a “better person,” but not perfect. I am less arrogant, which is important. I am slower to anger (or to become frustrated, because I’m assuming everyone is doing the best that they can).

There is a school of thought/behavior within Judaism called “Mussar.” Often it is translated as Ethics, but that isn’t quite right. It’s more about how one should behave, correcting one’s behavior to bring it closer and closer to the ideal. Closer to what we believe God desires of us and for us. It is in some ways very  similar to cognitive behavioral therapy, and can be a powerful tool for good (it can also be a powerful tool to beat down the spirit of someone who only hears the “you’re not good enough” message without the “you can do better because you contain the Divine within you”). And so, it is time for me to go back to looking in upon myself at the end of the day and evaluating my behavior. I need to ask myself whether I have failed to act as I should, whether I have hurt others.

Humility is, in the end, understanding that I am one of six billion or so humans, not to mention countless other animals upon this planet. And that I must act as such.  Not as someone special, but as someone who is seeking the way, just like everybody else.

As with much in life, the first step is recognizing the need. But we are all judged based on our actions, not our resolutions, and so it is time for me to re-examine myself, and seek to be the person I can be, and the person I wish to be.