Yield to the Moment

Yield to the Moment photo

I have been grappling for a little while now with the habit people seem to display when they do something good: Namely, they make their actions stand out, seemingly because they want the positive attention for doing the right thing.

I recently began studying Mishnah and it led me to some text that spoke to this human tendency. As a Mishnah novice, I find myself looking at the cited sources for elaboration on certain passages or asking my rabbi questions about parts I do not understand or cannot find a source for. In one of these searches, specifically on why the opinions Beit Hillel were accepted over Beit Shammai, I stumbled upon the following quote from the Talmud:

Anyone who seeks greatness, greatness flees from him, and, conversely, anyone who flees from greatness, greatness seeks him. And anyone who attempts to force the moment and expends great effort to achieve an objective precisely when he desires to do so, the moment forces him too, and he is unsuccessful. And conversely, anyone who is patient and yields to the moment, the moment stands by his side, and he will ultimately be successful. -- Eruvin 13b:13

It is often the case that those who seek greatness and glory are negatively impacted by that pursuit, while those who do not rush to claim it for themselves are more likely to find it.

In our society, there seems to be a disregard for this notion. Achieving glory and fame is at the forefront of many people's idea of success and prestige, and it often comes at the expense of others. To put it bluntly, other people and their feelings are considered irrelevant to one's success. Today especially, aggressiveness and borderline childish behavior toward others have replaced decorum. As the Sages say: "At the head of all the detriments to humility is foolishness and lack of true knowledge. You can observe that arrogance is found most prevalently among those who are most foolish." -- Messilat Yesharim 23:15

If you're thinking about a certain someone or certain groups, you would be viewing the painting from the wrong angle. Anyone and everyone is susceptible to the enticement of glory, to "seize the moment" for one's self for momentary satiation of the ego. While today many people equate pursuits of the moment with competitiveness and see them as demonstrative of leadership, it more so demonstrates foolishness and detracts from the powers and benefits of humility.

Adding further, the Talmud brings yet another loaf of wisdom to the table:

Rava said to him that it means: Once a person renders himself like a wilderness, deserted before all, the Torah is given to him as a gift [mattana], as it is stated: "And from the wilderness Mattana." And once it is given to him as a gift, God bequeaths [naḥalo] it to him, as it is stated: "And from Mattana Nahaliel." And once God bequeaths it to him, he rises to greatness, as it is stated: And from Nahaliel, Bamot, which are elevated places. And if he elevates himself and is arrogant about his Torah, the Holy One, Blessed be He, degrades him, as it is stated: "And from Bamot the valley" (Numbers 21:20). And not only is he degraded, but one lowers him into the ground, as it is stated: "And looking over [nishkafa] the face of the wasteland" (Numbers 21:20), like a threshold [iskopa] that is sunken into the ground. And if he reverses his arrogance and becomes humble, the Holy One, Blessed be He, elevates him, as it is stated: "Every valley shall be lifted" (Isaiah 40:4). -- Nedarim 55a:9

Overall, these passages from the works of the Sages reflect the simple but often lost objective of doing what is right for its own sake. It is not imperative that everyone knows you did something good and you shouldn't expect praise for it.

The takeaway here is this: do something good because you were placed in that moment to do it and don't boast, publicize or politicize your actions. Leveraging goodness for personal gain and expecting praise tarnishes the moment and loses its intent.

Barrett Ried Goldflies photo 375
Barrett is a native Chicagoan and graduate of the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). While attending, he pursued is natural love of history and anthropology, as well as discovered his passion for Jewish culture and the Jewish faith. Currently he works as... Read More

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