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Pirkei Avot 1:10 – Be Humble


Pirkei Avot 1:10

שְׁמַעְיָה וְאַבְטַלְיוֹן קִבְּלוּ מֵהֶם. שְׁמַעְיָה אוֹמֵר, אֱהֹב אֶת הַמְּלָאכָה, וּשְׂנָא אֶת הָרַבָּנוּת, וְאַל תִּתְוַדַּע לָרָשׁוּת

Shemaiah and Abtalion received [the oral tradition] from them. Shemaiah used to say: love work, hate acting the superior, and do not attempt to draw near to the ruling authority.

Reading this reminded me of my previous workplace. It was a nice place to work, however there was 1 thing I never understood. There was a clear hierarchy in the staff. The easy tasks and regularly those less pleasant (i.e., dirty) tasks were for the “lower” staff and the more difficult tasks for the “higher” staff. There is nothing wrong with that, because it makes everyone know what their tasks are, the tasks they get paid for.

What I struggled to understand was colleagues refusing to help colleagues with the “lower” work when they had finished their own tasks. People preferred to go for coffee or take a break rather than help the others.

My attitude was that you always took a break together as a team when everyone had finished their work. And precisely for the tasks that were less pleasant, I tried to make sure that they were done alternately as much as possible – because, of course, my own tasks should not suffer. And with more difficult tasks, I didn’t mind people assisting me where possible. So, there was a unity of work, a togetherness, and a shared responsibility for the work as a whole.

Bartenura on Pirkei Avot 1:10:3

“hate lordship”: and do not say, “I am a great man and it is a disgrace for me to work” – since Rav said to Rav Kahana (Pesachim 113a), “Flay a carcass in the market and take your pay, and do not say, ‘I am a priest, I am a great man and the matter is a disgrace to me.'” Another explanation: “hate lordship,” [meaning] distance yourself from the taking of authority over the public, as lordship buries those that have it.

We are all servants of Hashem. We must all perform the task He has given us to the best of our abilities and capabilities. Where we can support others in their tasks, let us do so to the best of our ability. Where we can use support ourselves, let us accept that help. In this way, we all bear responsibility for His world in solidarity.

Never feel more than another person because we are all humans, all servants of G-d. People who see themselves as having a higher dominant position are thereby harming themselves, as Rashi writes[1]:

Despise lordliness, i.e., do you utmost to avoid holding positions of dominance, and leadership, for they shorten a man’s life.

That is not to say that there should not be leaders. People who steer and people who give direction. But that too is simply a task given to someone by G-d. Think of Moses who was the greatest leader of the Jewish people, but he was the humblest person ever in history.

By Angelique Sijbolts


[1] ArstScroll Pirkei Avos p.11
ArtScroll Pirkei Avos

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