middot humility daily living pleasant with the young

pleasant with the young

Written by  rebbetzin malkah

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When one is engaged in any act of service, such as giving charity, offering prayer, performing an obligatory or voluntary act, or voicing rebuke, he should not engage in it with any pride or arrogance in his heart.  Rather, he should be humble and lowly before the Creator, both outwardly and inwardly.  [His act] should be as nothing to him, when compared with how much he owes G-d – so much more than this one act!  As it says, "With what shall I come before Hashem, bow low before G-d on high?  Shall I come before Him with burnt-offerings, with yearling calves?  Would G-d be pleased with thousands of rams?... He has told you, O man, what is good, and what G-d requires of you: only to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk modestly with your G-d."  (Micah 6:6-8)  – Rabbi Bachya ibn Paquda, Duties of the Heart, The Gate of Humility

When we are engaged in the service of Hashem, if we do it properly, it should inspire those around us. At the same time, it should not make anyone feel ashamed or embarrassed. If we are in service to our Creator in a haughty or self-righteous manner, then we are failing in one critical area: humility.

In society, no matter what era, what generation, I have observed a certain type of behavior among some people in older generations towards those who are of a younger generation. I haven't seen it with everyone, but certainly enough to be aware it exists in many circles. Not only have I seen this when I was a child, but I have also witnessed it as a young adult and now into my middle age. What is it? It is a certain sense of entitlement to correct those who are younger, without regard for their feelings. This harshness or arrogance is not only destructive, but it literally shuts the ears of the young.

"Be compliant with a superior, pleasant with the young."  – Talmud, Avot 3:12

While it does not seem as difficult to maintain a humble or respectful composure before someone who outranks us, it seems formidably harder for many people to regard those who are younger with a pleasant and respectful demeanor. Why?

This comes down to an imagined difference, not an equality, between all souls. While it is true that there may be years of maturity and experience to account for in someone who is older, what can also be said is a that certain level of hopefulness, lack of cynicism and open-mindedness can be found in the young. This is a positive element in younger souls.

Why is it so often that someone who is older does not show pleasantness to the young? Is it irritability with their lack of maturity? Is it regret? Is it the idea that swift correction will lead to a better society? What is certain is that, despite all the knowledge in the world, if the wrong spirit is used in conveying something to a person who is unaware or doesn't know any better, all can be lost in the transaction.

Be exceedingly humble of spirit before all persons – one must be humble of spirit before all persons – one must be humble of spirit not only before the great, but even before the small. – Rabbi Shraga Silverstein, Orchot Tzadikim, The Gate of Humility

a proper teacher

If we look back on the years of our lives, few or many, we can all remember wonderful people who not only inspired us but empowered us. These individuals usually captured our attention because they said words which lifted us up. We might have been ignorant, perhaps haughty in our own understanding.  But they responded not in a harsh or negative way, but a kind and helpful manner. Does this mean they weren't firm sometimes? No. But I can almost guarantee that most of us would look back at the people in our lives who were harsh, embarrassing, and excessive disciplinarians as those we would rather forget – maybe those we would purposely not give ear. I have personally never found those individuals to be true models of wisdom; for those who have true wisdom also have true humility.

Another extremely good form of humility is humbling oneself before one's students, explaining everything that is difficult for them – to the older one on his level and to the younger one on his.  And he should explain again and again with a pleasant expression and demeanor until they understand, and not say: "How can I answer so that he understands; his heart is as hard as stone!" – ibid

So if we are to be humble and inspiring models to the young – whatever age group 'young' is to us individually – what kind of servant of Hashem do we wish to be? We all have the ability to impart wisdom to those around us. The question is, when are we doing it improperly? The answer lies in R. Bachya ibn Paquda's statement above:

When one is engaged in any act of service, such as giving charity, offering prayer, performing an obligatory or voluntary act, or voicing rebuke, he should not engage in it with any pride or arrogance in his heart. – Rabbi Bachya ibn Paquda, Duties of the Heart, The Gate of Humility

Our words to those around us, older and younger, are to be kind. If we are to model to those around us righteous service and words, then we must be certain that they are done in a spirit of humility. If we especially raise up the young, whether young in age or knowledge, with words of encouragement and kindness, they will not only learn at the moment they are spoken to, but they will continue to want to learn, grow and model after righteous examples themselves. May you be an example worthy to be followed and may it be for the sake of Heaven – in truest humility.


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