General Question

LostInParadise's avatar

What do you think of this interpretation of Hillel's questions?

Asked by LostInParadise (25099points) May 18th, 2014

All that I know about Hillel is that he was a highly influential reformer and Talmudic scholar who lived about a generation before Jesus. He is well known for the following set of questions, which I believe are written in the Talmud. I am unfortunately not aware of the context.

If I am not for myself, who will be for me?
If I am only for myself, what am I?
If not now, when?

The first and third questions are relatively straightforward. I find the second one to be most interesting and profound. The question does not speak about morality or responsibility or relation to God. It is an existential question. I see it as saying that we most attain our humanity when we transcend our own needs and respond to the needs of others. It goes beyond a concern for self-actualization. In a sense it says that we most become ourselves when we lose ourselves.

Does that seem reasonable or am I reading too much into it? I checked online for interpretations and found a variety of shades of meaning.

Observing members: 0 Composing members: 0

8 Answers

josie's avatar

It might mean what you say. It could mean all sorts of things and it is up to the individual to discover and decide what it means for them.

It has poignant relevance in our time because some people imagine that the government is empowered to make that decision for you. Which means ambitious, corruptible, and power seeking politicians take advantage of your honest curiosity about what meaning the question has for you.

Shame on them for doing that.

janbb's avatar

I think he is saying there should be a flow between taking care of oneself and one’s own needs and taking care of and for other people in order to be fully human.

Coloma's avatar

We most become ourselves when we lose ourselves resonates with a lot of eastern philosophy. “Losing” oneself, means dropping ego identification with the “I am”...stories. Fill in the blanks.
Dropping all the dichotomies of “personal” identity.

” I am”...male/female, young/old, rich,/poor, smart/stupid” and all role identifications, ” mother/father, sister/brother/wife/husband” etc.
Drop all those ” I” associations and all that’s left is a pure..” I am.”

flutherother's avatar

It is a question that asks us to look at ourselves. Our humanity requires that we transcend our own needs but the point is we don’t have to lose ourselves. On the contrary our nature is such that we can only fully become ourselves when we are helping others.

KNOWITALL's avatar

yOu must take care of yourself in order to take care of others. Being in service to others is part of most religions.

dappled_leaves's avatar

I love how everyone simply casts it ito fit their own personal ideology.

janbb's avatar

@dappled_leaves Actually, I wasn’t. I was going by the words themselves and what I know of RabbiHillel.

Others however, perhaps.

bea2345's avatar

The three sentences are an injunction to seek integrity in one’s life. Integrity is a concept of consistency of actions, values, methods, measures, principles, expectations, and outcomes.-Wikipedia. I was going to say “perfect” integrity, but perfection is not to be attained in this life. Hillel is telling us to be true to ourselves, and then we may be of service to our community.

Answer this question




to answer.

This question is in the General Section. Responses must be helpful and on-topic.

Your answer will be saved while you login or join.

Have a question? Ask Fluther!

What do you know more about?
Knowledge Networking @ Fluther