Anavah – Humility

Humility Visualization

First, let me say that I am no expert in mussar. And in all honesty, I haven’t really even started. Right now I am only exploring the middot (character traits – middah, singular) that ring out to me as I prepare myself for the actual practice of mussar. From there I will pick the thirteen which I feel to be most applicable in my life and begin to focus on them one week at a time, journaling about my journey. However, from what I have read in Everyday Holiness, almost every middah hangs on anavah (humility). According to Rabbi Bachya ibn Pakuda, in his book Duties of the Heart (as quoted by Morinis in Everyday Holiness), “All virtues and duties are dependent on humility.” And it makes sense. Once I learned the Jewish perspective on anavah, humility, I became drawn to it, realizing my deep lack of understanding of this character trait, as well as my deficiency of its possession. Here’s why…

When the word humility is mentioned, what comes to mind? Too many times our working definition of humility is self-abasement. My new, working definition of humility comes from Morinis in Everyday Holiness. My paraphrase is as follows:

Humility is occupying our proper space, neither too much, nor too little.

I think this is the best definition I’ve ever heard. It makes sense on so many levels. When we break down a character trait into a definition such as this, we are able to truly define it’s parameters, rather than it being some ethereal, elusive non-tangible. Let’s explore this definition for a moment.

If humility is “occupying our proper space, neither too much, nor too little,” it’s obvious the result when we occupy too much space. At the minimum this is pride, and at its extreme, narcissism. We become so wrapped up in ourselves that the boundaries between us and others is unseen. We quickly overstep those boundaries and invade someone else’s space, whether physically, socially or verbally. One example Morinis gave that I thought was really good was in regard to speech:

“…when someone shares a piece of news with you, do you come right back with your own concerns, filling the space they’ve opened, or do you make room to follow up what the other person has introduced?” 1

I have had this flaw as long as I can remember. I remember when a friend of mine first brought it to my attention. His bringing it to my attention hurt me, but it was a much needed exposure of a flaw in my character that brought it to the surface in order that I could deal with it, and not be oblivious to it. However, since I was only made aware of this, and not given any tools for tikkun (repair / undoing), I still have not overcome in this. Now, I have passed it on to my children. And seeing this blemish magnified in them, it has set off internal alarms that I did not understand until recently. Having a proper definition of this middah with well-defined parameters helps me not only to better identify the breach in our family composition, but gives me a more solid means by which to correct it.

On the opposite extreme is not occupying enough space. If we occupy too little space, we are not fulfilling our God-given role in the world. It is not stepping up to the plate for which you were created. Hillel tells us,

“In a place where there are no men strive to be a man.” (Avot 2:6)

Remember, “Birth is G‑d saying you matter.”2 And you really do. We all do. We all have our special role to play. And if we don’t fill up our alloted space, we are destined to fail others who are relying upon us.

For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. (1 Corinthians 12:14-20)

In this quote from the Apostle Paul, he reminds us of the exact same thing. We all have our role, and we must not only fill that role, but we must also be content with that role.

But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” (Romans 9:20)

“Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable. Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work” (2 Timothy 2:20-21, ESV).

I believe humility is the starting point for this. Once we realize the space we are supposed to occupy, we can begin filling it properly and neither spilling out onto others, nor shrinking back from our responsibilities. Are you occupying your proper space?

 

  1. Morinis, Alan, (2008). Everyday Holiness: The Jewish Spiritual Path of Mussar. Trumpeter, 52
  2. Jacobson, Simon, (1995). Toward a Meaningful Life: The Wisdom of the Rebbe (a Collection of Teachings By Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson). William Morrow Paperbacks, 14

Yeshua’s Use of “Good Eye”

Fellow blogger Derek Leman has a short post on his Yeshua in Context blog site about Yeshua’s teaching on the eye as the “lamp of the body” in Matthew 6:22-23. Although I commented on his post & gave some of this information, I thought it would be good to post a more complete version of my thoughts here.

Good Eye, Bad Eye, Lamp of the Body

Matthew 6:19-24 is one of the first passages I point out to people who want to know why it’s important to understand Yeshua’s teachings from its original context, particularly the Hebrew idioms & terminology behind his words. Let’s look at this entire passage. I’ve used the NKJV, and left the headers from the translators to show the misunderstanding even at the level of scholarly translation.

Lay Up Treasures in Heaven
19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
The Lamp of the Body
22 “The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness!
You Cannot Serve God and Riches
24 “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.

I begin by having the person read verses 19-21 and then interpret Yeshua’s message. Then I do the same with verses 22-23, which often results in a confession of not knowing what he is talking about. Then I have them read verse 24, and they are able to interpret this just as easily as verses 19-21. Then I point out the theme of the three sections of this passage as such:

  • Verses 19-21: Money, things & stuff
  • Verses 22-23: Unclear
  • Verse 24: Money, things & stuff

From there, they usually see a pattern, and that verses 22-23 “should” fit back into the context.

They are then able to realize why it is so important is that we know the intended meaning of his teachings. It is easy for them to see how we will totally miss the point of what he is trying to convey if we don’t understand the original sense of the message, which hinges upon a Hebraic . And without this information, we will invariably make up a meaning that has absolutely nothing to do with his original teaching. For generations, Yeshua’s teaching in Matthew 6:22-23 has been interpreted in ways that are completely unrelated to the context of his subject, and stripped of its context (even at the pashat level).

Often this text is used as a prooftext for moral purity and guarding the eyes. Although this is indeed a principle that Yeshua advocates (cf. Matthew 5:28), it is not at all what he is talking about here. However, this passage, if understood as being Hebraic in nature, fits completely within the context of the surrounding verses (19-24). And, unlike many instances of passages found within the Apostolic Scriptures, we do not have to turn to an outside source (such as non-canonical or rabbinic works), Scripture actually illuminates this passage itself.

Put it back in Hebrew

First, we need to put this passage back into Hebrew. From there we can begin comparing it to other Scriptures in the Hebrew Bible, the Tanach (or the “Old Testament”). The Bible Society in Israel translates the phrase “your eye is good” in Matthew 6:22 as “עֵינְךָ טוֹבָה”, (ein’ka tovah) literally corresponding to our English (some texts translated the eye as being “single” or “clear” verses “good”). When we focus on the phrase “your eye is good” and we come across a passage in Proverbs.

In Proverbs 22:9, we have almost this exact phrase in the form of, “טֹֽוב־עַיִן” (tov eiyn) or “good eye.” Since this passage is being translated by Hebrew linguists, all dynamic English translations understand the meaning of this quite easily. Why? Because it is obvious in the Hebrew. However, when we are presented with a Greek text, such as the Apostolic Scriptures (the “New Testament”), translators try to impose a Greek understanding of the text, since it has been delivered to us in the Greek language. But this approach fails, as we will clearly see in this passage. But back to our correlation in Proverbs. The NASB translates this verse as follows:

He who is generous will be blessed, for he gives some of his food to the poor.” (Proverbs 22:9)

From here we can see it is obvious that the one with a “good eye” is a generous person. Now, let’s put this new terminology & understanding back into Yeshua’s teaching in Matthew and remove the last two inserted headers (modifications in bold italics):

Lay Up Treasures in Heaven
19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
22 “The lamp of the body is generosity. If therefore you are generous, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if you are miserly, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness!
24 “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.

With our new understanding in place, it completely changes our understanding of the words of our Master. Rather than three separate teachings, we see a cohesive unit of teaching by which he warns against being attached to wealth and the “things” of this world and encourages us to create spiritual “wealth” in its place. This reading completely fits the context of verses Matthew 6:19-24, telling us this is indeed the intended meaning of Yeshua’s words.

Look for my upcoming post, “Yeshua’s Use of ‘Righteousness’” which will give another example of insights gained from looking at the Hebrew beneath the Greek skin of the NT. It will elucidate more of Yeshua’s teachings, and expound upon many of the things discussed in this post.

Upcoming Resource

Do you want a resource to help you see these things in the Apostolic Scriptures?

One is on its way. Have you heard of the new, DHE (Delitzsch Hebrew English) translation of the Apostolic Scriptures from Vine of David (First Fruits of Zion)? Vine of David is in the process of taking Delitzsch’s Hebrew text of the Apostolic Scriptures and putting them into English for the first time. Here is some brief info on the project. I will be posting more thoroughly on this project soon:

Franz Delitzsch (1813 – 1890) was known as a “Christian Hebraist” he was a pioneer in the area of Jewish studies of the New Testament. Delizsch was a prolific writer, translator, and biblical commentator. His greatest and most noted work was is his New Testament translation into Hebrew. Deliztzsch re-contextualized the Gospels back into their Hebraic foundations. He understood and revealed the Hebrew / Jewish underpinnings of the Gospels. He devoted his entire life to restoring Yeshua back his people. The primary goal of this translation was to create “an edition of the Gospels that is sensitive to and reveals the Jewish essence of the teachings of the New Testament is vital to helping God’s people connect with the Jewish foundations of the Christian faith.”