“If I am not for myself, who will be for me?
If I am only for myself, what am I?
And, if not now, when?” –Hillel
The meaning and interpretation of these questions, posed by Hillel (rabbi and scholar) many years ago, have long been the subject of discussion and debate. They are questions that force us to look inward and truly consider the way we are living our lives.
“If I am not for myself, who will be for me?” When it comes down to it, we have to take care of ourselves. We can’t fully depend on others, or let others depend fully on us. There comes a time when we need to be selfish. Go to that doctor’s appointment you’ve been putting off. Take a day off from work and do nothing. Call it a “mental health day.” If there’s a movie you really want to see, but all of your friends laugh when you suggest it, go by yourself. (You won’t have to share the popcorn!) If you’ve got too much on your plate, say no. Stand up for what you believe in. Take a hard look at the people in your life. If you’re giving 110% to a friendship and the other person is only giving 30%, cut your losses. It’ll hurt at first, but you’ll be better for it in the end. Look at yourself in the mirror until you can see your own beauty. Buy yourself that special something you’ve been admiring for months. If you need justification, call it a holiday present to you, from you. It’s great to be a giver, to be generous and take care of others, but you have to accept things from others sometimes too.
“If I am only for myself, what am I?” Be careful with this one, because the answer could easily be “an asshole.” Let yourself be selfish sometimes, but not all the time. Put yourself first, but be conscious of the feelings of those around you. Find something that brings you joy and brightens the lives of others, whether it be sending holiday cards to friends and family, or volunteering at a local food bank. It may take time, but find a balance between selfish and selfless. Too much of either will undoubtedly affect your quality of life.
“If not now, when?” Carpe diem, seize the day! The truth is, that we never know what tomorrow will bring. We don’t know how much time we have left on this Earth. So, ask yourself this third question whenever you have doubts about doing something fulfilling. Don’t wait for a “better time,” because there may not be one. One of my mantras is “make every moment count,” and it’s all about not taking a single moment of our lives for granted.
This all sounds fine and dandy, but sometimes life gets in the way. We are faced with crippling challenges and seemingly insurmountable obstacles. But, no matter how crappy our lives might be at any given point, we are still so lucky to be alive. Be there for others, but remember to be there for yourself too. It’s okay to be sad for a little while, as long as you pick yourself up afterwards and keep on going. It all comes back to Hillel’s first question: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?” Sure, we all have amazing people in our lives who love and care for us, but in the end, if we are not for ourselves, then the chances are that no one else will be either.
How would you answer these questions? Do you think they apply to anyone of any age and background? Are they a good moral compass?