"May I love myself."
Rabbi Hillel (circa 110 BCE - 10 CE) is one of the more important figures in the history of Jewish teaching. This statue of him, instructing a convert on the simple essentials of faith, is part of the detail on the great Menorah outside the Knesset (Parliament) in Jerusalem. The essentials he distilled into this: "What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow: this is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn." The convert is standing on one foot, the teaching is that simple.
There was another rabbi in that time, who is often discussed in context with Hillel, Rabbi Shammai. His teaching tended to be more legalistic, more demanding. He was not able to so graciously and simply instruct this convert (so the story goes). These two rabbis were a part of the world Rabbi Jesus of Nazareth grew up in. Can you figure out which of the two, Hillel or Shammai, Jesus sounds more like?
On another occasion Hillel gives this teaching, one that is often quoted in part, but less often in toto. There are three elements to it, as you can see.
1. If I don't love myself, who will?
2. If I only love myself, what am I as a part of humanity?
3. These conflicting demands force one to make tough moral choices, self or others. One must choose, and the expedient to choose is not in itself bad. Now is the time. Things will never be entirely clear.
My focused phrase for the week (during my meditation times) has been, "May I love myself." I was initially uncomfortable with this self-focus. As the week went on the balance of Hillel's teaching made more and more sense. If I truly love myself, and am truly invested in humanity (outside myself) my choices need not weigh me down. Doing my best will be seasoned with self-respect and respect for others. I will make some choices that are better than others. It is not perfection that I seek, but spiritual progress (AA's Big Book).
This is not an easy drill for me. I do feel, though, that I am on the right track. So for the coming week I will be saying this, "May I accept myself as I am." This may be the most difficult one for me. I'll let you know.