Humility: What Does Judaism Teach Us?

Jewish Food for Thought: The Power of the Earth
Hanan Harchol and Rabbi Leora Kaye

Jewish Food for Thought is a series of animations that distill Jewish teachings into a form that is accessible, entertaining, funny, and fresh. Created by Hanan Harchol, with study guides authored by Rabbi Leora Kaye, the project is funded by The Covenant Foundation, with fiscal sponsorship by The Foundation for Jewish Culture.

Can being humble actually be a source of strength? What does it mean to be “like the earth?” How can I let go of needing the recognition of others, and if I support the advancement of others, can it lead to my own growth as well? What does it mean to bend?

Study Guide

The Power of the Earth

Rabbi Nachman teaches that humility, just like the earth, has a gravitational pull. People do not want to be around someone who needs to be above or superior to them all the time. By being humble, people around you are given the space to feel their uniqueness, and they don't feel the need to fight for their place, which ultimately draws them to you.

Note: In his description, Rabbi Nachman uses the term "Tzaddik." In Jewish mystical terms, the Tzaddik is someone who is completely righteous, the role model for behavior.

All things and all creatures stand on the earth all the time. The only way anything can leave the earth is if some countervailing force overcomes the pull of gravity, distancing the object from the earth in accordance with the strength of the countervailing force. As soon as the countervailing force ceases, the object returns to earth.

Thus when a person throws an object upwards, the force that he applies distances it from the earth: the greater his strength, the higher he can throw it. Afterwards, however, when the countervailing force is spent, the object falls back down to the ground because of the gravitational pull of the earth, which draws everything to it. Were it not for this, nothing would stay on earth, because the earth is a round ball and everyone in the world stands on its surface. It is because of the earth's gravitational pull that a thrown object falls back down to earth as soon as the countervailing force ceases.

The Tzaddik is the "earth," for "the Tzaddik is the foundation of the world" (Proverbs 10:25) and everything rests upon him. The Tzaddik has a gravitational power of attraction that draws everything to him, for the true Tzaddik is the foundation of the world and everything derives from him. All the other Tzaddikim are only branches of the true Tzaddik, each according to his level: one may be a branch while another may be a branch of a branch. For this unique Tzaddik is humble and lowly and makes himself like dust: for "I am dust and ashes" (Genesis 18:27). He is the foundation of the world precisely because he is "dust" and thus he supports everything.    - Likutey Moharan I, 70

When Hanan's father talks about being like the earth, he says, "If you insist on being above everyone, everyone feels so little around you, no one can grow around you, they will run away from you, but if you consider being below, it has the opposite effect."

  1. Let's start with a hard question to answer. What are examples of times you felt you needed to be above others? Why did you feel it was necessary? In hindsight, do you still think it was? Could you have responded by being more humble?
  2. In what ways do you bring yourself below others? Do you feel that you do it genuinely, like a Tzaddik, or is it less natural? How hard is it to do?
  3. How does it feel when you are “below?” Do you feel diminished, or strong? Something in between?
  4. Who are the people in your life who make you feel elevated, as though they give you space to grow? For whom have you done that?

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