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Jewish sage Hillel and the human being

A deeper understanding of a famous saying
The following saying of the 1st Century Jewish sage Hillel is famous all over the world.
“If I am not for me, who is for me?
If I am (only) for myself, what am I?
And if not now, when?”
The common interpretation of this wisdom axiom, is a motivational reading about self reliance, empathy, and wakefulness.
But there is a deeper layer beneath the surface.
The form of the saying is shaped in a puzzle, supposed to intrigue the reader. It is not expressed like a straight moral injunction.
What this saying indicates is that humans come with questions, they are not programmable robots to whom you just give orders.
Honoring the question is honoring the human soul, acknowledging the relevance of its search for meaning.
Hillel here reveals fundamental questions that open our inner eyes.
3 inbuilt questions within the human being.
Who, what, when.
The first one, Who, is how I can address myself. It is through the path of Who that the knowing of self comes. The Zohar calls this aspect Bina, or Imma.
The second inbuilt question is What. This is where my self exists as a reference in a network of other selves. Through the question of What, I learn I am either man or woman child or adult what am I to them all what am I in relation to the trees the sky the ocean the universe. Zohar calls this aspect Hokhma or Abba.
The third question WHEN concerns time. Here there is no mention of self.
Because at this level my self is totally identified with the now, the moment which it calls being. At this level only synchronicity exists.
Zohar calls this aspect Keter or Atika.
These 3 aspects are enacted during the practice of Mitzvot.
When we do any Mitzva these 3 questions are activated.
Who else than me is going to do it?
What am I doing it for?
Why now?
Who else than me is it a mitsva for Cohen Levi Israel man or woman
What is the mitsva concerned with, what is my position in the network the mitsva is addressing? For instance in the Mitzva of tzeddaka am I the householder or the receiver, in the mitsva of Lulav I am the human in relation to the tree.
The last question is how Will, the desire implicit in the action is activated. If not now when, means everything is based on now. This is why in Hebrew we speak of ‘ET RATZON, the moment of will, as the ultimate grace.
While the simple first layer of reading suffices Ben for a child to awaken good moral qualities, the deeper reading engages us to ask the choice of precise words used to formulate this very popular axiom.
Using terminology originating from the axiom author’s own

culture, we are able to get a glimpse into the depths of what it taught.
Furthermore we can see how the deeper layers of reading do not change or alter the ethical enlightenment of the surface reading.

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