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Embracing Humility

Be humble and consider yourself lower than all, even the wanton sinners, for the intensity of their struggle is greater than your own.

In this chapter we will learn another method to crush and cause the stone like heart (Timtum HaLev) to melt away.

 One who suffers from Timtum HaLev must set one’s heart to fulfill the instruction of our Sages “Be lowly of spirit before every man.” (Avot 4:10).

Now a number of commentators have noted the difficulty in this Mishnaic dictum. For the Hebrew language distinguishes between two types of humility: (sheflut) “lowlines” which is a feeling of inferiority in comparison with others;

The second type of humility is, (Anivut) which is the absence of self glorification even while recognizing one’s superiority – the thought that one’s superior qualities are a Gd given gift, and another person similarly endowed might in fact have invested them to better advantage.

Since the Mishnah employs the adjective ‘shefel ruach’, (lowly of spirit) it is explicitly advocating the first type of humility and hear is where the difficulty arises: Why should one regard oneself as being lowlier than the lowest of sinners? Because of this difficulty, some commentators interpret the Mishnah as saying, “conduct yourself self-effacingly toward every man”  i.e., “treat every man with deference, as though he were superior to you.”

The Alter Rebbe, however objects to this interpretation as follows: the wording implies: “Be thus”, and do not merely act thus, in all sincerity in the presence of everyman, in the presence of the most worthless of worthless man (kal Shebekalim).”

Having rejected the interpretation, however, we remain with the original difficulty: How is one expected to regard oneself as being lowlier than the lowest of sinners? In answer, Alter Rebbe states that the introspective Beinoni will find that often he fails to wage war against the evil inclination to the same extent as the sinner is required to wage war against his desires. Although the lapses of the Beinoni may be in seemingly inconsequential matters, they are more reprehensible than the lowly sinners transgressions. Thus, even the Beinoni who’s objectives of the Torah and Mitzvot are impeccable, can indeed regard himself as being lower than literally every man, as will be explained.

This can be accomplished by following the instruction of our Sages: (Avot,2:4) “Judge not your fellow man until you have stood i.e., placed yourself in his place. For it is literally his “place” i.e, his physical environment that causes him to sin, since his livelhood requires him to go about the marketplace all day, and whenever he is not thus engaged he is of those who sit at the street corners. Thus his eyes see all sorts of temptations; and “what the heart sees the heart desires.”

Additionally it may be his spiritual “place“, the nature of his evil impulse, that leads him to sin; his evil nature burns like a baker’s fiery oven, which is heated with greater frequency and intensity than a domestic oven, as it is written in Hosea: 7:4–6. "It burns like a flaming fire".

It is different, however, one who goes about but little in the marketplace, and most of the day is at home rather than at the street corners, and therefore encounters less temptation. Even if one does go about the marketplace all day so that one’s physical “place“ is the same as that of the Kal Shebekalim, yet it may be that their spiritual “place“ is different, and that one is not so passionate by nature, and therefore not as greatly tempted by the sights of the marketplace.

In other words, one person was born frigid and thus the evil impulse is not the same in everyone. One person’s nature may be more passionate, and the others less so.

But if the misdeeds of the Kal Shebekalim are indeed attributable to his environment to one’s passionate nature why do they deserve the derogatory appalachian? This is to teaches us in truth, even one who is extremely passionate by nature, and whose livelihood obliges them to sit all day at the street corners, has no excuse whatsoever for their sins, and is termed an “utter evil doer” for not having the dread of Gd before their eyes. For they should have controlled and restrained the feeling of desire in their heart because of the fear of Gd-Who sees all of their actions-the fear of Gd should have enabled them to overcome their desires despite the difficulties that was imposed by the surroundings and the “nature of the mind has supremacy over the heart by nature of one’s birth“ (chapter 12 Tanya) i.e. it’s a man’s inborn characteristic that their mind is able to master and restrain their hearts desires.

Truly, it is a great, fierce struggle to break one’s evil nature which burns like a fiery flame, for the fear of Gd; in deed is like a veritable test. Therefore every person ought to weigh and examine their own position according to the standards of their place and rank in Divine service, as to whether they are serving Gd in a situation requiring a comparable struggle in a manner commensurate with the dimensions of such a fierce battle and test as the Kal Shebekalim faces. Even the most passionate and cloistered of men must often engage in a battle with their evil inclination, both in the area of “doing good“ and in the area of “turning away from evil,“ as the Alter Rebbe g

In the realm of “do good” – in the service of prayer with devotion for example, this person must battle the inclination daily, in order to pour out their soul before Gd with one’s entire strength, to the extent of “ringing out one’s soul”, exhausting all of their intellectual and emotional powers in this devotion. This battle must be waged both before prayer, (i.e. preparatory to) and also during prayer.

One must wage a great an intense war against their body and their animal soul within, which impedes their devotion, crushing and grinding them like dust every single day, before the morning and evening prayers.

Also during prayer one must exert oneself with the exertion of the spirit, so that one’s spirit should not grow weary of lengthy contemplation on the greatness of Hashem, and an exertion of the body to remove the hindrances to devotion imposed by the body.

In essence, we cannot compare ourselves to anyone (even the Kal Shebekalim) because our struggles may be nothing compared to their struggles.

Anyone who has not attained this standard of waging such a strenuous war against their body, has not yet measured up to the quality and dimensions of the war waged daily with these lowest of lowest sinners- that have such a strong evil nature that burns like a fiery flame.

We must ask ourselves (as stated in Tanya)

-Do we battle against the evil impulse to the same extent like the lowest sinners have to?

-Do we exert enormous effort to have pure kavanas while saying blessings before eating or when we say the grace after our meals?

-Do we have holy intentions before performing our mitzvos? And do we do them for Gd’s sake alone?

-Do we battle to occupy ourselves in Torah study -i.e. to study more than what we are accustomed to? Or by more than what is our nature?

(Tanya teaches us that  unless one struggles with the evil impulse to study much more than one’s nature or habit demands, one is no less wicked then the Kal Shebekalim. Ohhhhh!!!

- Do we wage enough war when involved in the service “labor of charity

-Do we summon up the strength to stop in the middle of pleasant gossip?

-Do we sanctify ourselves from refraining from indulgence in permitted matters?

All the above are the sins which people trample underfoot and are insensitive to their importance which people find or have come to regard them as permissible because they are committed repeatedly.

Imagine if one is a Torah scholar and upholds Gd’s Torah and wishes to be close to Hashem.

How much more so is their sin unbearably great and their guilt increased manifold for not waging war and not overcoming the impulse in a matter of commensurate with the quality and nature of war mention above with the lowliest of low men.

That’s why the sages declared in regard to the illiterate that “Deliberate sins are regarded in their case as inadvertent acts”, (Bava Metzia 33b) “since they are unaware of the gravity of their sins”. But with the scholar the reverse is true, “An oversight due to lack of study is ajudged as being as grave as a deliberate sin.”  (Avot 4:13)

By contemplating this, the observant scholar will now be able to fufill the instruction of the Mishnah “Be lowly of spirit before every man”. Thereby, one will crush one’s own spirit and the spirit of the Sitra Achra of their animal soul, enabling the light of their soul to penetrate and radiate in their body (as explained in chapter 29).

In essence Tanya teaches us that there is no difference between the category of turning away from evil and the category of doing good. Both are commandments of the holy King Blessed Be He. The feelings of an observant individual and quality of their prayer, Torah study, and so on are therefore comparable to the transgressions of the Kal Shebekalim.

Therefore,  we can’t judge ourselves in comparison to the lowest of lowly souls.

Know this well!


Can you see how all the above information can help you not only have a better relationship with the One Above, but also with your loved ones and in-fact with everyone you encounter?

Can you in all honesty look in the mirror and say to yourself I have no right to look down at another? Nor judge anyone in any way? Can I make a commitment to interact with everyone no matter what level they are at with love and compassion?

Can you strategized ways for you to attain more humbleness?

What will work for you to genuinely cultivate this level?

At first can you fake it till you make it?

Can you keep this chapter of Tanya on the front of your brain (like a your computer file on your desk top screen)  so you have easy access to it?

Can you now upgrade your service with the fierce battle that the Kal Shebekalim do?


Practicing to be humble.

See yourself in front of certain kind of person that (to say kindly) -May grate on your nerves.

In this vision though you have a very humble energy. The kind of humbleness that is truly internally a humble spirit.  (Not an act).

See yourself genuinely self effaced you are here in this vision.

You feel the most emesdik ever!

You are radiating compassion and empathy for their struggles

You are capable of interacting with them in the most sincere non-judgmental way.

And now take that energy and let it flow into your every day spiritual practices to help you weed more from the level of mediocrity or less to a new height of strength in your service of Hashem.

No longer do you accept the status quo!

No room for stagnation! You are ready to battle for this new level of inspiration and it is beginning to ignite the power within you!

See yourself break through any boundaries that may have been holding you back!

Your inner power is being unleashed

It’s being revealed!

You are reaching new heights!