June 08, 2004

Strive to be a man

Amritas posts about being an individual. He says:

Participating in government activities will not empower you. It may make you feel as if you are, but true empowerment can only come from within.

I think that this is actually a three-way choice. Here are two seemingly contradictory quotes of Rabbi Hillel, from Pirqey Avot:

...אל תפרוש מן הציבור
ובמקום שאין אנשים, השתדל להיות איש

Al tifrosh min hasibur...
Uv’maqom she’eyn anashim, hishtadel lihyot ish

Do not separate yourself from the community...
And in a place where there are no men, strive to be a man

I grew up surrounded by pseudo-individuals, sheep who pretended to be men by being anti-establishment. Of course, being “anti” is itself sheep-ish. Those who define themselves by what they are not are also letting someone else define them! Personally, I prefer an honest sheep to a fake man any time.

But Rabbi Hillel is saying more than this. He is saying that there is value in being part of a community – that you shouldn’t be “an individual” for its own sake, for the egotistical desire to “be a man”. This is a pseudo-individualism that is worth less than nothing. On the other hand, when there is a good reason to be an individual, when no one else is standing up for what’s right – it should be you.

Posted by David Boxenhorn at June 8, 2004 02:26 PM
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