Fly High with Humility



I knew we were in trouble when I learned that many universities have students evaluate their teachers.  Schools that embrace utter equality of students and staff make authentic education impossible.


Outside of some religious schools, students are rarely taught to respect teachers.  Yet, hierarchy still has a role in a free and democratic society.  How does one show respect?  By lowering oneself and acknowledging subservience.


The Biblical book of Samuel opens with Hanna praying for a child and promising that she will offer him in service to God.  The second chapter describes Hanna and her husband Elkanah presenting their son Samuel to Eli and we find the following phrase.


….the lad served the Lord before Eli the priest.

(I Samuel 2:11)


Chapter three presents Samuel well into his apprenticeship and starts with a similar sounding phrase:


And the lad, Samuel, served the Lord before Eli.

(I Samuel 3:1)


The subtle wording brilliantly hints at how Samuel has changed.  In chapter two, his lowly status didn’t deserve a name.  He was merely ‘the lad’ while his master was identified by both name and status, Eli the priest.


However, as time goes by, things reverse.  In chapter three, the lad is worthy of being identified by name while Eli’s stature has slipped because of occurrences in his life.  He is no longer ‘Eli the priest.’  Now he is merely Eli.


But that is not all.  In English the two phrases look similar.  However, in Hebrew, they are quite different.  Hebrew employs a two letter word ET which is untranslatable. If a phrase includes it in one case and not in another, the translations will look identical. But, its inclusion in the Hebrew has several implications, one of which is identifying the object of the sentence. I Samuel 2:11 has two objects—telling us that Samuel served ET the Lord, and that he served ET Eli, the priest.  Ancient Jewish wisdom explains that at first Samuel served the Lord Eli by serving Eli the priest.


Later on as chapter three opens there is only one ET in the verse, preceding the word Lord. This suggests that there is only one object, namely God.  Samuel has graduated and can now serve God directly, though Eli is still there.


What an elegant life lesson!  Although destined to become one of God’s most faithful servants, Samuel must begin his career by serving Eli.  Only by serving God’s priest was he able to serve God.  Eventually, after demonstrating his ability to be subservient, he was fit to begin his ascent.  By the time chapter three opens, he has reached the point of serving God under the supervision of Eli. Later, he will overtake Eli in his leadership capabilities.


Part of military effectiveness can be attributed to routine application of this principle.  One only earns the right to issue orders after demonstrating the ability to follow orders.   A boss who has worked his way up the ranks usually wins more respect than one who simply appears at the top.


Parents and teachers are sometimes unsure of themselves and reluctant to wield their authority. Have you heard a mother pleading with a toddler or seen a student lecturing a teacher? Young people who never learn humility and service will never become effective leaders.


Anyone seeking proficiency in some field should find an expert in that subject and apprentice himself with humility.  We do the same thing by acknowledging God’s mastery over us.  Wise parents ensure that their children see them demonstrating subservience to God every day. 


One way I respect God is by striving to obey His commandments, including those about not working on Festival days. . Next week’s Thought Tool will therefore be sent on Thursday, as our office and store will close for Passover on Tuesday and Wednesday.


I wish my Jewish friends a Passover of fulfilling redemption and my Christian friends a joyous and uplifting Easter.

1 thought on “Fly High with Humility”

  1. Humility is confused with suffering today. Suffering is the assessment that ‘this is not fair!’ ‘I deserve more than this!’ etc. The way I assess the situation directly effects how I repond. Humility nurtures growth and maturity, as in Samuel, and ‘suffering’ nurtures neurosis as is Woody Allen. The expression, ‘it’s hard to be a Jew’ is so damaging because we have not learned to take the SITUATION and turn it into growth. A teacher, such as yourself, shows his student, or Talmid by his own reactions, actions, attituded and demeanor how he handles life. Its the same picture, your choice, suffering or humility.

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