Remember when I posted about reading that book about vulnerability? I stopped reading it the next day. Yup. You read that right: It was too much and I gave up.
Well, at least for a little while. I needed time to mull over what I had read and let it sink in. If I want to attain lifelong growth from reading this book, I can’t read it in one sitting and expect my life to change immediately. No, it takes more time than that.
So after that first excursion, I decided that two of the nonfiction books I’m reading this year I’m going to read often in small bursts: First is the Sefer Yetzirah, which I’ve been reading one verse at a time, because unpacking each verse when it’s literally steeped in thousands of years of mystical philosophy demands a slow yet attentive reading schedule, and second is Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly. The vulnerability book.
If I am not for me, who will be?
If I am for myself alone, what am I?
And if not now, when?
This third teaching of Hillel’s is perhaps not only his most famous, but also the most well-known of all the teachings—and I’ve seen it (often without due credit) everywhere from billboards to potato chip commercials. “If not now, when?” Later, obviously, since I’ll talk about each line in turn, as I have with most of the teachings before, and likely will for most teachings hence forth.
The first line here—“If I am not for me, who will be?”—seems as successful a lesson in selfishness as we can muster with such poignant elegance. The Hebrew itself is a hundredfold more stunning, however, in its simplicity and its lyrical quality: “Eem ain ani lee, mi lee?”
But certainly, the same man who taught us to be disciples of Aaron, who said not to seek fame but to study throughout life, could not be telling us to be selfish, could he?