home about articles
Rabbi 911 blog sameach
Hope & Prayer in the ICU Confessions of a Jewish Feminist
Oh, Those Lights!
The Humble Ego
By Rabbi Yosef Marcus

Berel was a poor but happy man. He had chanced upon a free ticket to Moscow. A first class ticket. He had only heard about the great train that would take him to the big world, the customs of which he was absolutely ignorant.

He arrived early and, following the example of the ticketless peasants around him, dove under a bench and covered himself with newspapers and rags. Untrained in the art of avoiding the ticket collector’s eye, he was quickly noticed and schlepped up by the collar. “Where’s your ticket?” roared the red-faced official. Berel produced a folded piece of paper, which prompted the bewildered official to ask: “You have a first class ticket—what are you doing under the bench?”


A famous Chasidic saying:
Keep a note in one pocket that says, “The world was created for me” and in the other pocket a note that says, “I am dirt and ashes.”

So how does this work? How can you be humble and prideful at the same time?

The answer is that there are two types of pride: holy pride and arrogance. Holy pride comes when you realize that you possess a soul, a piece of the Divine. Such pride doesn’t make you arrogant, doesn’t make you think you’re better than the next guy, because the next guy has a soul too. And it doesn’t distance you from G-d because you don’t take credit for your “greatness.”
But when you think you’re great because of  your talents, wealth or whatever else you think you possess that is extraordinary, and you fail to recognize that all of these things are gifts from G-d and that you cannot take credit for them, you are suffering from arrogance. Arrogance distances you from
G-d and from your fellow.

Here’s a cryptic quote from the Zohar: “He who is small is great and he who is great is small.”  
If you’re small—if you don’t let your superficial greatness get to your head—you are actually great, because you allow your true greatness, the infinity of your soul, to be present and active. But if you’re great—you can’t get over yourself—you’re small, you’ve limited yourself to the level of finiteness.
If you think you’re great because of your talents or achievements, you’ve leveled the playing field. Now you and the rest of creation are basically on the same level: finiteness. Your true greatness is infinite: you possess a Divine soul, which is infinite. Don’t sell yourself short.

Rabbi Yosef Marcus is the director of Chabad of S. Mateo. He is an author and translator of Judaic literature and a staff writer at Farbrengen Magazine. His latest book, Tales of the Kabbalists, is due to be published in January. You can reach him at info@chabadnp.com.

home about articles