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Pirkei Avot 1:14 – Believe in Yourself


Pirkei Avot 1:14

הוּא הָיָה אוֹמֵר, אִם אֵין אֲנִי לִי, מִי לִי. וּכְשֶׁאֲנִי לְעַצְמִי, מָה אֲנִי. וְאִם לֹא עַכְשָׁיו, אֵימָתָי

He [also] used to say: If I am not for myself, who is for me? But if I am for my own self [only], what am I? And if not now, when?

Perhaps one of the most famous sayings of Pirkei Avot, from Hillil. I remember when I read this years ago I was dumbfounded. Coming, and then living, in a world where you were constantly reminded that you were weak, that you could never do well enough, that someone else had to fix it, made me have no idea what to do with…

If I am not for myself, who is for me?

… and yet it awakened something in me. It is logical to believe in G-d, over the years I have learnt that it is logical to believe in the Sages, but here it is about believing in yourself!

When a person’s faith is lacking, he must expend a lot of exertion in his devotions to G-d (Likutey Moharan II 86). Rob Noson writes that when Rebbe Nachman addressed this lesson to him, he was quited shocked, “I always thought of myself as having faith,” said Reb Noson, who could not understand the Rebbe’s implication. When he mentioned this to the Rebbe, Rebbe Nachman said to him, “You may have faith, but you have no faith in yourself!” (Rabbi Nachman’s Wisdom # 140).[1]

It is I who must awaken my soul to higher things. I must seek G-d, I must learn to act as He wills. If I don’t follow the 7 Noahide Commandments, who would do it for me. All this needs faith in myself.

I need to believe that I am important in the eyes of G-d and that He will help me wherever I make a start.

I need to believe that even though I have believed and done many things wrong, that I can go to G-d and He will help improve my ways.

I must believe that I can perform what He asks of me, with His help.

I must believe that I can help others as well.

And that brings us to the second part:

But if I am for my own self [only], what am I?

It is wonderful if I can grow spiritually, but it has no value if I do not put what I learn into practice, if it remains knowledge and not action. Everything learned should be used to make the world, society, a good place. A place where G-d can dwell.

And if not now, when?

How often does it happen that you know exactly what to do, how to act, what you should say…but today, not today, not tomorrow! The problem is, tomorrow is always tomorrow. The important thing is that when you decide to do something, you immediately link it to a concrete action. Start now, today, in this moment.

By Angelique Sijbolts


[1] Crossing the Narrow Bridge, a practical guide to Rebbe Nachmans Teachings p. 90
ArtScroll Pirkei Avos p. 12

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