Omer Day 35: On the One Hand and on the Other

Malchut she’b’Hod – Nobility of Humility

When asked, “Which is greater – study or action?,” Rabbi Akiva answered, “Study is greater, for it leads to action” (Bab.Tal. Kiddushin 40b). So, for Day 35 of counting the Omer – Nobility of Humility – here is a series of notes and comparisons for meditation and reflection, ending with a suggestion for action.

1. Humility and Nobility – what’s the connection?

Hod – humility

Malchut – nobility, kingdom, and kingship

2. On the one hand … and on the other …

Hod – “I am but dust and ashes.” Anokhi afar va’eifer. (Gen. 18:27)

Malchut – “For my sake was the world created.” Bish’vili niv’ra ha’olam. (San. 37b)

3. “Mightily humble”  “The man Moshe was mightily humble [anav m’od], more than any earthling on the face of the earth.” (Num. 12:3)

HodMoses was “humble”

Malchut – Moses was “more than anyone else”

Hod –  aleph-dalet-mem (adam) “earthling”

Malchutmem-aleph-dalet (m’od) “mighty”

Hod – “earthling” adam made from “earth,” adamah; a “humble human” (Lat. homo) from the humus (all the same etymological root)

Malchut – “noble” (etymological link to “known”); “high-born” (Moses was brought up as a prince)

4. Two pieces of paper

“Rabbi Simcha Bunam of Pzhysha once said to his students: Everyone must have two pockets, with a note in each pocket, so that he or she can reach into the one or the other, depending on the need. When feeling lowly and depressed, discouraged or disconsolate, one should reach into the right pocket, and, there, find the words: ‘For my sake was the world created.’ But when feeling high and mighty one should reach into the left pocket, and find the words: ‘I am but dust and ashes.’”[1]

Hod – “I am but dust and ashes.” Anokhi afar [ayin-peh-reish] va’eifer [aleph-peh-reish]. (Abarham in Gen. 18:27)

Malchut – “… the greatness of the Holy One (Blessed Be He) [is that while] a man mints many coins with one stamp, all of them the same as one another, the King of Kings the Holy One (Blessed Be He) minted every person with the stamp of Adam, and not one of them is the same as his fellow. For this reason, every single person must say, ‘The world was created for me’. Bish’vili niv’ra ha’olam.” (Sanhedrin 37b)

Hod – “The sceptre [i.e. the ‘king’], learning, physic, must / All follow this, and come to dust.” (Shakespeare, Cymbeline, Act IV, Scene 2)

Malchut – “You are gods [elohim], and all children of the Most High.” (Ps. 82:6) “When I behold Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, that You have set in place, what is man, that You have been mindful of him, mortal man, that You have taken note of him, that You have made him little less than divine [mei’elohim], and crowned him with glory [k’vod] and splendour [hadar].” (Psalm 8:4–7)

5. Who we are, what we do … 

Hod – “Judaism stands and falls with the idea of the absolute relevance of human deeds.”[2] – i.e., what we do “on the ground”

Malchut  “man’s dignity consists in his having been created in the likeness of God.”[3] i.e., we are children of the “king.”

6. Leading with humility

Hod – “Seeing yourself in terms of your relationships and being as concerned about the welfare of others as you are about your own welfare.”[4] i.e., the idea of the servant-leader[5] – “the king [leader] shall consider as good, not what pleases himself but what pleases his subjects”[6]

Malchut – “Understanding yourself – Developing self-awareness of your strengths as well as your weaknesses.”[7]

7. Nobility in Humility – humility as confident, honest self-awareness

“Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone.”[8]

8. Make study lead to action – make two cards, and make them make a difference

For many years, I have known Rabbi Bunam’s story of the two pieces of paper. Then, it finally dawned on me this didn’t have to be just an inspiring idea that I could read about, but fail to call to mind when it might really matter. I could actually write on two pieces of paper, and make the idea a reality.

So, here’s a suggestion. Get two small pieces of card, business card size (card is more hard-wearing than paper). Write one of the statements on each. Keep one in each pocket of your trousers, jacket or coat, or find a way to display them both on your desk.

And use them.

Image by D’vorah Horn from her set of Omer Practice Cards (2016).

[1] Martin Buber (1961) Tales of the Hasidim: Later Masters, Schocken Books, pp. 249-250

[2] Heschel, Abraham Joshua (1954) Man’s Quest for God, copyright Susannah Heschel 1996, p. 109

[3] Ibid. p. 95

[4] Nielsen, Rob, Marrone, Jennifer A., Ferraro, Holly S. (2014) Leading with Humility, Routledge, p. 24

[5] Greenleaf, Robert K. (1970) ‘The Servant as Leader’; Spears, Larry (1998) ‘Ten Characteristics of the Servant-Leader’

[6] Chanakya (4th century BCE) Arthashastra

[7] Ibid.

[8] Williamson, Marianne (1992) A Return to Love: reflections on the principles of ‘A Course in Miracles’, HarperCollins


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