Humility/Hod — week 5

 

Today is the 29th day of the Omer (text on bottom)

Today is the 29th day of the Omer (Hebrew text on bottom)

It is Saturday night and we have just counted 29 days, beginning the week of Hod (week 5) in the counting of the Omer. This sefirah/emanation is often translated as Glory or Beauty or Splendor. Some connect it to the Hebrew word hoda’ah, a word for Gratitude. And some understand it to represent Humility. In his Omer guide The 50th Gate, Rabbi Gavriel Goldfeder joins gratitude to beauty and humility in this description of Hod:

The word hod means to thank and admit. Both may be summed up as acknowledgment that there is someone outside of me with whom I am in relationship. S/he holds something that I need — be it knowledge that I don’t have or a smile that warms my heart. Hod also connotes humility and recognition of beauty. All of these are in the same family — seeing the beauty and value of that which is outside me, before whom I must be humble, to whom I may have to admit my violations of that relationship, before whom I express gratitude… The week of hod calls upon us to recognize and make space for others even when it does not seem to fit with our vision, even when it challenges our own illusion of self-sufficiency. The same is true of our relationship to G-d — hod reminds us of the necessity of silence and humility in order to hear what He is telling us…”

And Rabbi Simon Jacobson in his Omer guide reminds us that this week of Hod follows the week of Endurance and that these two weeks inform each other:

 “If endurance is the engine of life, humility is its fuel. Hod gives netzach (endurance) direction. Humility is the silent partner of endurance. Its strength is in its silence. Its splendor is in its repose.”

Humility is my favorite middah (soul-trait/virtue). Favorite in the sense that it is the one I most often think about and try to cultivate in myself. Favorite in the sense that it also seems to be the richest, with many different valances. I used to be afraid to teach this one to my Mussar students. It seemed “advanced” and so difficult to attain. My own understanding initially was that humility was the culmination of years of Mussar study and practice and not for the beginner or faint of heart.

When I discovered that some colleagues teach humility as the very first middah to their new students, I was, truthfully, floored. And yet, it has come to make sense to me. If students don’t begin the process of their Mussar studies by noticing the kind of space they take up in conversation with the other, either in class or with their chevruta (study partner), how will they ever attain humility in their relationship with God?

Humility is no longer scary for me to teach; it is not only the most compelling middah for myself personally but is also now my favorite to teach others. In fact, I will be teaching it at a Mussar gathering sponsored by The Mussar Institute tomorrow in Manhattan.

This week I invite you to contemplate Joseph, a true exemplar of humility when he let God take the credit for his own skills in dream interpretation: when someone praises you, thank God for acting through you. Ask for and accept constructive criticism from others. Practice tzimtzum/contraction — watch how you take up space physically (on busses, subways, benches or in your home or office — does your mess spread into others’ domain?) and emotionally (in conversation or in demands on others’ time/energy).

And if you have a chance to read the children’s picture book Zoom, I suggest you do. It is a great meditation on another aspect of humility altogether (to be continued)….

 

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