True power comes from within. True humility comes from a deep sense of and genuine comfort with our identity. This is someone who is anchored and powerful.
There are a number of foods associated with being Jewish. And there’s one of those many foods which you can find in almost any supermarket throughout the country and I found it in the most far-flung places on the supermarket shelf. It is what we call matzoh. Matzoh is is not only a food, it actually is a message. And I want to emphasize this message of matzoh.
Matzoh in contrast to bread is humility in contrast to arrogance. Bread is always inflated by yeast or some other method in which it has a lot of air that makes it puffy. Matzoh’s purpose is the exact opposite, to make sure we’re taking a dough which does not rise and we bake it. And, therefore, the allegory of matzoh or the way matzoh finds itself within human expression is through humility. And we actually have an eight‑day workshop every year called Pesach, Passover, where we only eat matzoh and we don’t eat bread. And it is actually, this workshop is actually a workshop of humility. That is what the workshop is meant to be. Humility is the most important character trait that a person can acquire and I would say it is a life‑long effort to expand our humility. It is also arguably the most misunderstood character trait. People tell this to me all the time, people always tell me that one needs a healthy ego in order to be successful. Or they’ll say that one needs to have a healthy arrogance in order to be successful. And while I understand that what the people ‑‑ what people are trying to express is that one needs to be strong and confident in order to find success in life, we need to be able to differentiate between strength and confidence that comes from ego or arrogance versus what many people don’t even know exists and that is the power in humility, the enormous power that one can only acquire through humility.
So I want to explain what humility is, how it offers us all the power that one can possibly attain and how without it, without humility, we are actually weak, we are not powerful although we may feel that we’re powerful.
C.S. Lewis once said this, expressed this in a very profound way. He said, Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.
This is a brilliant statement because it really captures the true meaning of what humility is. We often think humility means that I put myself on the side, I turn myself into a door mat, I don’t let myself shine and all of that. And it has nothing to do with humility. That is not what humility is. Humility is not thinking less of yourself.
And let me give you a very simple example. When we deny a compliment that someone gives us when that compliment is, in fact, true, they compliment us about something which is true about ourselves and we say, Oh, it’s not really true, I don’t really ‑‑ I’m not that good at that, we are not being humble. That is not humility. That is what we call in plain English lying. We are being dishonest. If we know that it is true, that we excel in a certain area and someone compliments us about that and we deny that compliment, we are lying. That is not humility.
Humility is not thinking less of yourself. This is very important to understand.
Well, then, what is humility? Humility is knowing yourself, knowing who you are, but not making your life focus about yourself. That’s the reason why an arrogant person that is given a compliment gets so excited because that compliment is exactly what he was waiting for because he thinks about himself, he’s so self‑oriented that he’s craving for people to acknowledge himself or herself.
Humility is someone who hears a compliment and thanks the person for complimenting them but doesn’t make a drastic change in their state of being because they do not really spend their life thinking about themselves and trying to get self gratification or acknowledgment. Arrogance is someone who makes everything about themselves. They see everything that happens in the world as it relates to them. Does this make me look better or does it make me look worse? That’s how an arrogant person sees everything that happens in their life. That’s why they cannot handle criticism because it says that there is an issue with them. And they can’t handle that because all they do, all they are obsessed with is themselves. Because an arrogant person personalizes everything, everything that is told him shapes him in some way or another. An arrogant person is extremely vulnerable because if someone criticisms him, they are crushed by it. And that is why people who give off the appearance of being strong, they put off that strong image that comes out of ego or arrogance are actually displaying publicly how weak they are, how their emotional state is always in the hands of other people.
A humble person never personalizes things. And when I say never, of course humility is a continuum. So the more humble we are, the less we personalize things. The more we look at what is happening around us objectively, we stand firm because we accept and we know who we are. We don’t need to demonstrate it. It just is. And people see us as confident, strong people. Because we’re not living about ourselves, we’re not trying to defend ourselves or prove ourselves. We are just being ourself. That is a humble person.
Can you remember ever sitting in ‑‑ and maybe it was a lecture hall or a movie theater and you’re trying to see the speaker and you can’t see the speaker because there’s a person in front of you who is very tall and they’re blocking you and the whole time you’re trying to look to the right or the left of that head that’s in front of you to see the speaker?
Imagine if you held up your hand right now in front of your face and you tried to see the world through ‑‑ you tried to see the world through that, through that hand which is in your face. What are you constantly seeing? Your hand, and it’s getting in your way. An arrogant person is a person who blocks themselves from seeing the world around them because they are always seeing it through a filter of themselves and, therefore, they can never truly see what is going on.
It’s actually a very painful way to live. A humble person, because they do not obsess about themselves, they think ‑‑ they don’t think less of themselves, but they think of themselves less, that means they take ‑‑ they spend less time thinking about themselves. Their hand is not in their way, they see the world objectively. If the world objectively tells them there’s an issue with them, they say, Okay, how do I fix it. If the world around them tells them there’s something beautiful about them they say, That’s wonderful, I have to spend more time doing this because I do well at this. That’s why compliments don’t send humble people through the roof; criticism doesn’t crush humble people, because they have an objective view of things.
Only a humble person can stand with strength in life without simply being triggered by everything and anything that’s going on around them. This is all that matzoh is trying to teach us. And so when we eat matzoh, we have to realize that what we are eating is a message about humility, about being humble and that humility doesn’t mean that I think less of myself, humility simply means that I think about myself less. This is the reason why almost every study today demonstrates that when people are lacking happiness in their life, they should do what is counter‑intuitive, they should spend their time invested in others, not in themselves.