As in water face answereth to face, so the heart of man to man. Proverbs 27:19 KJV
There was once a Jewish sage who was asked how he became the greatest leader of his generation. The questioner most likely expected an answer that would include the sage's most outstanding traits and abilities that proved he was superior to anyone else. However, the wise man answered surprisingly, "I never met a person who wasn't somehow better than me."
In the Talmud, the question is asked, "Who is wise?" The answer: "He who learns from every person." The sage who had become a great leader of his generation didn't do so by honoring his own wisdom, but by honoring and learning from the wisdom of others.
Humility is the key to knowledge - and it is also the key to sharing knowledge.
The rabbis provide an analogy. When a person stands next to a body of water, it reflects his image enlarged. When he moves away from the water, his image shrinks. When a person comes cheek-to-cheek with the water, both the person and his image are identical.
The same is true between people. If one person enlarges himself and speaks from a place of arrogance, the other person will sense this and do the same. If, however, he humbles himself, the friend will do the same. When they are both as humble as possible, they become equal. As it says in Proverbs: "As in water face answereth to face, so the heart of man to man." As water reflects people, our hearts are reflected in the hearts of others.
When a person is humble, he or she encourages others to be authentic and humble as well. This allows for the transmission of ideas from one person to the next so that each can learn from the other without pride getting in the way.
According to Jewish tradition, in the afterlife a person is asked, "Did you set your friend above you?" In other words, were we humble enough to learn from others? Did we value wisdom more than prestige and position? Did we value every human being?
These are the questions that we should each ask ourselves today if we want to become wiser in the future. We can spend our lives focused only on ourselves, and we might be able to improve upon ourselves a little. However, when we open ourselves up to the Divine wisdom and knowledge that God has placed in every person, we can grow exponentially in our own wisdom and knowledge.
Next time you speak with anyone, humble your heart and speak from the heart. As we say in Judaism, "Words that come from the heart go straight to the heart."
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President