Let My People Know

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz: "It does not matter if one is called good or great"


One of the definitions of humility implies an ability to hear one's praises like hearing the praises of others. 

Higher even than this is the capacity to speak in praise of oneself, also in the same way that one speaks in praise of others. 

Following this line of reasoning, one of the Sages made the interesting comment: 

It is indeed written in the Talmud concerning one who flees from honor, that honor runs after him (Eruvin 13:6). 

But if a person sincerely seeks to elude the respect and esteem of his fellows, why should he be punished by being pursued by honor? 

And the answer to the question is that if one flees from honor, it means that he is still involved with the way others feel about him. 

He still has a glimmer of pride somewhere in him. 

Therefore he is punished by having honor pursue him. 

That is to say, were he indifferent to the whole matter of honor, he would not need to flee from it. 

He would be able to receive it with the same casual equanimity as he would receive disgrace.
And that is genuine humility.

In short, humility does not lie in the denial of one's superiority, virtue, or wisdom.
It rests, rather, on the absence of a personal sensitivity to what is said about oneself. 

It is thus an ability to accept the facts about oneself, without emotional identification of any kind, whether positive or negative. 

So that one will not necessarily say, "Oh no, no. Not me," in response to approbation and acclaim. 

Because it does not matter if one is called good or great, sagacious or beautiful, or whatever.

It simply makes no difference.

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
From "Sanctity and Restraint" in The Candle of God by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz