Tzemach Tzadik by Rabbi Leone di Modena Chapter 34 Humility


Back to chapter 33 about intemperance

Translated by Ralph Anzarouth and an anonymous friend


Humility consists in considering oneself much less than what he really is and in this respect it is pointless to choose the middle way; one should rather follow the words of our Sages of blessed memory (Pirkey Avot 4, 4): "Be extremely humble". Rabbi Solomon Ibn Gevirol wrote that the person who possesses this trait has already restored his soul and prevented it from seeking [earthly] pleasures etc. Among the things which the reasonable person should know is that humbleness and meekness will cause him to be honored as it is known from the third officer sent [by the king] to Elyahu and who reasoned with him in a pleasant manner when he said to him (Second Book of Kings 1, 13): "May my soul and the soul of your servants be respected by you".

The trait of humility can be compared to the sheep, the humblest of animals, which endures whatever befalls, as it is written (Isaiah 53, 17): "Like a lamb led to the slaughter and like a sheep that is mute before before its shearers; ". For this reason, the Jewish People is compared to it, as it is written (Yechezkel 34, 31): "And you are My flock, the flock of My pasture" and (Jeremiah 50, 17): "Israel is a scattered lamb", also the righteous and the pious are thus described. King David said (Psalms 31, 11): "The humble shall inherit the earth and shall rejoice in an abundance of peace". He also said (ibid. 147, 6): "Hashem supports the humble and casts down the evil". King Solomon said (Proverbs 16, 18): "Pride precedes the fall" and (ibid. 16, 33 and ibid. 18, 12): "Humility precedes honors". He further said (ibid. 22, 4): "Awe of Hashem stems from humility". And in Tractate Sanhedrin (folio 43b), our Sages of blessed memory tell us: "Rabbi Yehoushua ben Levy said: one who brings a burnt offering receives reward for a burnt offering; one who bring a meal offering receives reward for a meal offering; however, one whose spirit is humble is considered as if he had offered all the sacrifices, as it is said (Psalms 51, 19) 'The humble spirit is like sacrifices to the Lord'." It is further brought in the Tractate of Sanhedrin (folio 88b): "They taught: who is worthy of the World To Come? One who is modest and humbles himself when he enters and leaves, he frequently studies Torah and does not pride himself on anything".

Aristotle said: "If you wish to know what sort of person you are dealing with, give him good service: the bad person will be arrogant whereas the good person will be grateful". He further said: "Respect your fellow man since respect comes to the one who gives it and not to the one who receives it." Longianus said: "In the same way as birds force their wings downwards when they want to take off, so man must humble and restrain himself in order to progress". Socrates said: "Every honor which you bestow on others will not be in vain, since if the beneficiary will not be repay it, somebody else will". He further said: "If somebody wants to enjoy himself, he should cloth himself with obedience and humility." [A philosopher] said that the fruits of humility are love and serenity.

In Roman literature it is written that when an army commander returned safe, victorious and glorious after having been sent on a campaign, three forms of honor and three forms of disgrace were bestowed upon him: the first honor was that on his return all the people came out to meet him on his approach to the city with chants, songs and great rejoicing; the second was when they drove him in a carriage drawn by four white horses, with everybody following him until the Capitoline Hill; the third form of honor was when all the prisoners taken in the campaign where bound behind his carriage. The first disgrace which they bestowed upon him was to place a vile and despicable person with him in the carriage in order to demonstrate that anyone, however lowly or humble, could achieve his status if they will only mend their ways; the second involved this vile person slapping his cheek several times and telling him: "Don't be proud, since I am a man just like you and you're a man like me and maybe I will also achieve your rank"; the third was that on that day everybody was allowed to verbally taunt and abuse him as they wished without suffering any punishment.

The whole book Tzemach Tzadik in Hebrew (printed in Rashi characters) can be downloaded in PDF format and read online at Chapter 34 about Humility is found at pages 66-68.