Rabbi Simcha Feuerman, DHL, LCSW-R
(Quote from Golda Meir)
There is a humorous story about an up and coming student who attended one the great mussar yeshivos in Europe. In this yeshiva, there was an attic where the more pious would meditate on their state of smallness in the world. Of course, one did not have the temerity to THINK that he is so big, as to attempt to become so small. By some kind of unwritten pecking order, only certain people dared to enter that upper sanctum.
One day, the time had come that Yossele felt he finally achieved enough character and humility to enter this room and meditate on his nothingness. He meekly found a dark corner and began to repetitively recite, “Ich Bin a Gornit….I am an absolute nothing”, over and over to deeply impress upon his soul this great message of insignificance. After a while, he worked himself into a frenzy, and perhaps, he was the real thing. However, one of his less than humble colleagues noticed the newcomer, and remarked to his friend, “Hey, since when did Yossele become such a big-shot Gornit?”
Our Gemara at the end of Daf 4b and the Beginning of Daf 5 discusses Avshalom’s status as a Nazir. Like all Nazirs of his type (Nazir Olam), he cut his hair only once a year. Like all Nazirs, the motivation is to abstain from the pleasures and vanities of this world, in order to promote spirituality and humility. Yet, we learn from the verses that Avshalom was exceedingly handsome, and even his hair was an object of admiration and pride (see Shmuel II;14:25-26). Mekhilta Derabbi Yishmael (15:1) offers the scathing criticism that Avshalom’s spiritual downfall was his hair (pride), and he eventually came to his physical demise by his hair as well. (See Shmuel II:18:10, where Avshalom gets stuck in a tree, his hair entangled in the branches, and is caught and executed.)
This is the danger of any spiritual pursuit, the same vital pride that drives us to our goals can easily lead us to hubris. The day you have a good davening, you are tempted to look around shul and look down at those who SEEM less pious. The day you master a complex area of halakha, you are tempted to see others as less intelligent than you. The day you overcome a spiritual test and display kindness or modesty, you are sorely tempted to look down on people who APPEAR less developed. It is a paradox that requires constant vigilance.
Translations Courtesy of Sefaria, except when, sometimes, I disagree with the translation
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